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The Day That Elvis Came to Town

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Actually, Elvis never does come to town. He comes close — showing up at a concert at the end of this book, but his appearance really doesn’t matter much by then.

What does matter is what happens to 13-year-old Wanda Sue Dohr during the summer and early fall that precede Elvis’ appearance.

Wanda is growing up in a small-town Georgia boarding house, run by her mother to provide steady income when her father occasionally drinks up the profits from his plumbing business. Joining the odd assortment of boarders in the summer of 1964 is a cabaret singer named Mercedes, who charms Wanda immediately with her friendliness and candor. Wanda’s even more enchanted when she learns Mercedes spent a couple of months in the same class with Elvis — the Elvis, Wanda’s absolute idol — at a Memphis high school.

Although much of the book is devoted to Wanda’s obsession with Elvis and her quest to get tickets to his show in nearby Savannah, it also touches on racism (Mercedes, it turns out, is the daughter of a black father and a white mother), alcoholism (Wanda’s dad’s problem), and a variety of family conflicts.

Marino’s a good storyteller, but the problem with this book is that it’s a little of this, a little of that. Granted, real life never concentrates on one problem at a time, but this book might have been more effective if its plot did. The Day That Elvis Came to Town is a pleasant read. Just don’t expect too many life lessons. B-