The Great Pretender

(21 customer reviews)

Twelve-year old Archie Lane’s next door neighbor is a killer. Archie has uncovered that terrible secret, but no one will believe him. If he doesn’t find a way to convince his parents he witnessed a real murder, the results could be fatal fro Archie. Set in the fall of 1957 in Little Rock, Arkansas, a city torn apart by one of the nation’s first civil rights crises, Archie’s suspense-filled story recounts his transition from an idyllic world to the incomprehensible world of adulthood. Throughout his story, the reader watches Archie struggle to come to terms with the subtleties of right and wrong.

Twelve-year old Archie Lane’s next door neighbor is a killer. Archie has uncovered that terrible secret, but no one will believe him. If he doesn’t find a way to convince his parents he witnessed a real murder, the results could be fatal fro Archie. Set in the fall of 1957 in Little Rock, Arkansas, a city torn apart by one of the nation’s first civil rights crises, Archie’s suspense-filled story recounts his transition from an idyllic world to the incomprehensible world of adulthood. Throughout his story, the reader watches Archie struggle to come to terms with the subtleties of right and wrong.

21 reviews for The Great Pretender

  1. Barb Neilsen

    I loved this book. It’s a coming of age novel that encompasses several adult themes like fighting, racism and dealing with betrayal. The story is set in Little Rock, Arkansas during that city’s racial crisis in 1957 and the dramatic story adds to the reader’s understanding of the South in the 1950s.

  2. Buddy’s Dad

    Author Jim Lester has used his childhood memories, his love for the sport of basketball, and his substantial knowledge of U.S. History to produce his second juvenile novel, The Great Pretender. Very few professional historians have written effective novels for any age group. Lester has now created his second well crafted novel for young readers. The Great Pretender’s main character is twelve year old Archie who is living in Little Rock, Arkansas at the time of the 1957 Central High School Integration Crisis. This unusual book contains a murder mystery, makes a strong moral point about race relations, manages to be a coming-of-age story, and even brings in adult issues involving marriage and divorce. I recommend this well crafted work to all young readers and to any adult who remembers what it was like to be a sixth grader.

  3. Barbara Penney

    An enjoyable story with interesting twists and turns. I liked the innocent conversational style that was so typical of a 12 year old of that era. A good read without gratuitous sex and/or violence. I will read this again and look for other offerings from Mr. Lester.

  4. Carol Duncan

    Finally a book has been written that will help all ages understand what was happening during the Little Rock integration crisis. This story goes beyond the newspaper headlines and shocking television coverage and let’s the reader experience the events through the eyes of young people, their families and community. Mr. Lester makes the readers feel like they are back in 1957 with vivid descriptions of daily life in the early suburbs. As a retired teacher, I have recommended this book to American History teachers for their units on integration and civil rights.

  5. Gran

    The current trend in youth-oriented fiction is toward fantasy or dystopian novels. This little gem of a book swims against the tide and gives the reader a well-written, realistic portrait of a 12 year old boy growing up in the south in the 1950’s. The story is set against a backdrop of one of the country’s first major civil rights crisis and what Archie Lane, the main character, learns about the evil nature of racism is as valid today as it was back then. Using a suspense novel format, the author works in not only race relations, but also the early days of rock’n roll, a young man’s passion for basketball and his first heart throb. A good book for middle school readers and any adult who might be interested in what it was like to grow up in the not so innocent 1950s.

  6. Brenda

    This was a wonderful story and so much fun to read. I am recommending to all. Thanks Jim Lester – keep em coming.

  7. friend

    Having grown up in the times that Mr. Lester has depicted in this novel, I think he has captured both the innocence and confusion we experienced with great accuracy and understanding. The “crisis” going on around us made no sense;racial issues divided the community and often the family unit. Additionally, the generations were divided by the cultural changes in pop music. Parents disapproved of the loud music played by “vulgar” men who moved their hips provocatively, while the young girls of the times screamed loudly to show their approval. He has written a splendid coming of age novel that not only shows what the 50’s and 60’s were like, but can be used as a discussion springboard for issues today concerning race and even the technological changes that separate the generations. I highly recommend this book for teens and think Seniors citizens will read it and have a big smile on their face as they remember “the good ole days”

  8. DSC

    Well written. Full of suspense. Easy to identify with the characters.

  9. Ted L.

    Wonderfully written book about growing up in Little Rock during the turbulent 1950s. Jim Lester creates engaging, relatable characters. Perfect for those looking for realistic historical fiction about middle/high school age kids or for those who just like playing basketball.

  10. BigAl

    The Great Pretender is a fun and entertaining coming-of-age story. While the setting of the late 50s is too early to invoke nostalgia in me, this combined with taking place in Little Rock, Arkansas added another element I enjoyed, integrating the attitudes and norms of this place and time on race relations into the story. This also figured prominently in the growth the protagonist Archie goes through. Plus, in case the title isn’t a dead giveaway with the obvious reference to The Platters hit of the era, music plays its part in the story, too. That’s always a positive, at least for me.

  11. ST

    Great book. It reminds you how crazy things were back in the 1950s. I think young adults could use the reminder. The book also has a lot of good humor and one liners that, as an adult, you recognize are prophetic for a 12-year old. Lester gives twists and turns to the plot that you don’t see coming, and a nice surprise ending. I’d recommend for young adults or even (old?) adults looking for an interesting, quick read.

  12. Judy M. Bullwinkle

    This is a wonderful book about growing up in the Little Rock, Arkansas in the 1950’s. With an engaging protagonist, the book offers insight into the lives and events of the period. Although the themes are serious, there is much humor to delight the reader. Written as a young adult novel, the book will be enjoyed by adults, especially those who lived through the era with such issues as civil rights and rock and roll. The many twists and surprises add to the enjoyment of the reader.

  13. Messages for the Soul

    When I think of coming of age stories in the 1950’s and kid’s whose innocence is lost all too soon, I immediately go to “Stand By Me”. Author Jim Lester’s “The Great Pretender” had that feel for me as well, with Archie and Sandra’s experiences, although the story was a bit more sinister. Archie is 12 years old and believes he witnesses his neighbor murder his own son. What follows is an engrossing tale that encompasses some real issues of both the past and our present day. The twists in this one were fantastic, as nothing is as it seems and there are some great lessons in this well-written story. Highly recommended.

  14. valient

    Archie loves basketball but the rest of life just keeps intruding. Coming-of-age, the beginnings of civil unrest, friendship and parental issues are some of the problems that keep imposing themselves on his comfortable middle class world in a small Southern city. This story is rich with many elements woven skillfully together through the eyes of an adolescent boy. You are drawn subtly into the whirlwind of Archie’s emotions. His confusion, fear, sadness, joy, resignation, and acceptance of the events happening in his life are portrayed by a whimsical, humorous, low-key style of writing. I loved the whole reading experience of ‘The Great Pretender”; it is reminiscent of one of my all-time favorites, “A Boy’s Life’ by Robert McGammon. I posted it as some violence and some sexual content, but those elements are very-understated and only in the context of the story. It is a coming-of-age novel, after all, but absolutely nothing that would be inappropriate for any age reader.

  15. Celeste Hollister

    This book grabbed me from the start. Archie is a sweet kid coming of age in a confusing world. I haven’t finished reading the book, but I think it’s one that people should read.

  16. Rita R. Shepard

    1957 is a year of racial strife which Archie faces at school, at home, and among his friends every day.

    There is a group of kids at school who protest the integration of black kids into one of their schools. His father doesn’t think that black and white people should mix. His best friend hates black people and encourages violence against them.

    Archie is a 12 year old boy who enjoys playing basketball and wants to be the best. His father works all the time to give Archie and his mother the nice home and life he wants them to have.

    One Halloween night, as Archie took the shortcut through his neighbor‘s yard, he peeked through the windows and saw what looked like Mr. MacDonald committing a murder. Now he sees Mr. Mac Donald watching and following him at every turn.

    Archie must learn to face his demons and follow his conscience.

  17. kathleen

    Archie is a teenager. That means he’s focused on sports (basketball) music, his friends and girls. Not necessarily in that order. We all know about the terrible Civil Rights events during the 50’s. Archie’s responses are the beginning of his coming of age. His discovery of a terrible secret tumbles into his life with all these other situations. His thoughts are scattered, then frightened, then determined. Archie will grow into an honorable man, and for that I am glad I read it.

  18. dan

    This is a really great book about coming of age. I enjoyed it from beginning to end. Grab a copy and see what you think!

  19. Madelon Wilson

    Little Rock, Arkansas, 1957, was a time of great upheaval with the Brown v. Board of Education decision that led to the forced desegregation of Central High. I turned 10 years old, in October of 1957, and I remember watching the National Guard, outside the school, on television. I grew up in the Bronx. I really didn’t understand why this was happening.

    Archie Lane is 12 years old, white, and he is living in a suburb Little Rock. Through the eyes of this boy, we are given a glimpse of just what it was like to grow up in 1957. THE GREAT PRETENDER is not a book about racism or desegregation, but both are integral to Archie’s story. It is a story of secrets and perceptions, and how these things can impact a young life. As I was reading this, I found that Archie was a kid very much like I was a kid.

    Along with segregation, polio was a scourge in the land. It was a time when living in an iron lung was the only way to make it from one day to the next. Polio was a horrid disease that promised only death to its victims.

    And then there is basketball… Basketball is Archie’s sport of choice. I am really glad of that because basketball is one of my favorite sports so I could follow along with the game.

    THE GREAT PRETENDER is an extremely well written book. I would imagine it might be difficult for an adult writer to recapture that special poignancy that is childhood just before puberty. It is a time when life seems so perfect and so devastating at the same time. I am really glad to have met Archie Lane and his friends and his foes. It is not just another coming of age story, it is also a timeless commentary on the era that was the 1950s. Jim Lester has captured the essence of both boyhood and the time with a great deal of alacrity.

  20. Carmen’s Review

    This book was really good. It kept me interested and I read the entire thing in one day.
    There are a few spelling errors that could be fixed but they aren’t bad enough to pull you out of the story. I mostly laughed at them. For example a girl’s hair barrettes was spelled berets.
    The other reviews describe this book very well so I won’t repeat it here.
    I would recommend this book to anyone over the age of 12.

  21. BookLover

    I loved this book! Good story, great characters, wonderful historical setting. I loved the author’s portrayal of Little Rock, Arkansas during the civil rights crisis. It really rings true. I’ve enjoyed everyone of this writer’s books.

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