Monday, September 28, 2009

Realism, Romance, and Censorship: Son of the Mob: Hollywood Hustle

Bibliographic Data
Korman, Gordon. Son of the Mob: Hollywood Hustle. New York: Hyperion, 2004. ISBN 0786809183.

Plot Summary
In this hilarious sequel to Son of the Mob, Vince has escaped his New York mobster family roots and taken off for his freshman college year in California. But when his older brother shows up with homemade ziti and some 'Uncles," Vince is quickly and unwillingly drawn back into "the family business." Throw in a gorgeous undercover FBI agent, a roommate who is the son of a popular but secretly corrupt Congressman, and the foibles of film school, and Vince wonders if he'll even make it through his first semester. At the end of the book, though, he is left with a new understanding of how much his father really does care for him, despite his Godfather persona.

Critical Analysis
Vince Luca has escaped his Mafioso roots back in New York to come to California, only to find his past coming after him. Son of the Mob: Hollywood Hustle is filled with “cardboard exaggerations” (Vardell, 2003) such as Mafia thugs with hearts of gold, a California beauty of the stunning starlet variety, and assorted clueless college students. The movie-making industry is based on illusions and making things seem larger than real life. Vince wants to make movies. But his life IS a movie. When he despairs of ever completing his film class project, Vince turns in a film of an actual crime taking place, courtesy of some of his “Uncles” from New York. While this desperate ploy wins him accolades from his film professor, the Uncles later steal the tape back –- after all, it’s “evidence.” Meanwhile, Vince’s girlfriend is caught up making her own movie debut, his best friend has made a new, very suspicious (to Vince, at least) friend in Las Vegas, and Vince’s roommate is spiraling downward into Vince isn’t sure what kind of mental state. Sounds like a B movie from the 1950s.

Even though both the plot and characters seem over the top, these exaggerations work on a visceral level. How many teens have ever wished they belonged to any family but their own? Vince has this same desire, except when he talks about family, he’s talking about the Family, with a capital F. Reading about Vince and his Family problems shows other teens that their own families maybe aren’t as bad as they could be. At the end of the story, Vince is left with a new understanding of how much his father loves him.

          “Crowded out by so many other revelations, the real top story of
     tonight is just beginning to sink in.

          My father was willing to take a bullet for me.” (240)

This story is told in the first person point of view by Vince. His laidback approach to life is obvious in the narration. He’s probably seen things other people can only imagine, so nothing should phase him, right? Well… Let’s let Vince tell the story of when his girlfriend came to dinner at their house in New York for the first and only time.

          “And then the meal is seasoned with a little dash of the vending
     machine business.

          There’s a pounding at the door, and in staggers Benny the Zit, who
     sometimes does odd jobs for Tommy. He looks like something out of
     Dawn of the Dead-—covered from head to toe in blood, with a
     stainless-steel corkscrew buried in his neck up to the third spiral.

          My father, who just turned sixty and claims to be slowing down,
     leaps out of his chair, charges across the foyer, and leaves his feet
     like an NFL linebacker. He hits Benny right between the numbers,
     driving him back outside. The door slams shut behind them.

          “Old family friend.” Mom tells Kendra confidentially. “Poor boy
     cut himself shaving.”

          From our front stoop comes an earsplitting scream as Dad yanks
     the corkscrew from Benny’s flesh.

          Mom has an explanation for this, too. “Owls. They‘re all over the

          For the rest of the meal, we pretend to concentrate on our food,
     and not the howls of agony that come as my father, who includes
     amateur surgery on his list of talents, stitches up Benny the Zit in
     our not-very-sterile garage. Kendra hangs tough, but at one point,
     I look over, and she’s gone so pale that she appears to have no

          She’s still a little shaky when I drop her at home. “Is your house
     like that every night?”

          “No,” I deadpan.; “Mom only makes gnocchi on special occasions.”
     And we crack up laughing.

          Mom hands down her judgment that night. “A beautiful girl—a
     lovely person. Don’t bring her here no more. Do her a favor.” (19-20)

And other teens think their families are strange? Maybe not as much as they first thought after reading this book. Between the hilarious episodes and farce, there’s a definite message in this story, that family is family, whether it’s spelled with a capital F or not.

Awards and Honors
M. Jerry Weiss Book Award, 2007; Winner Grades 7-12 New Jersey.

Review Excerpts
Todd Morning (Booklist, Oct. 1, 2004 (Vol. 101, No. 3))
The complicated plot involves the kidnapping of a union boss, the unmasking of a seemingly high-minded congressman, and Vince's brief fling with a beautiful FBI informant. By the end, Vince has managed to sort through the thickets of corruption, thievery, and colossal misunderstandings, finding that his first semester of college has been much more lively than the average freshman's. Korman delivers many funny lines throughout as he deftly balances satirical elements with an action-packed story.

Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2004 (Vol. 72, No. 17))
Korman's cleverly conceived and plotted followup to Son of the Mob (2002) will keep fans in stitches as hero Vince Luca, the son of a Long Island-based mafia boss, again tries unsuccessfully to extricate himself from "The Life." Determined to leave all things mob behind him, Vince crosses the continent to study film in California but soon finds himself up to his camera lens in dirty doings. Worse, the love of his life, who also happens to be the daughter of the FBI agent investigating his father, is starring in a pretentious classmate's film project and no longer has time for him. Although the focus is on funny, to his credit Korman doesn't ignore the harsher realities of the underworld nor the uneasy alliance between powerful fathers and their struggling-to-define-themselves sons.

Leslie McCombs (VOYA, December 2004 (Vol. 27, No. 5))
Vincent Luca is off to college at last… Unfortunately for Vince, one cannot escape the mob that easily. In no time at all, his oldest brother, Tommy, and a flood of "uncles" start appearing at his dorm, armed with trouble and his mother's famous five-cheese baked ziti. Vince is certain that they are not there for a vacation to Disneyland. But Vince has his own problems when his roommate's goddess of a girlfriend starts chasing after the son of the mob. Vince spends his first semester away from home tying to retain his own girlfriend, avoid his roommate's girlfriend, and figure out what his father is up to….The complicated plot is neatly bound together by one-liners and awkward situations that Vince cannot seem to avoid, no matter how hard he tries. Each character is portrayed with deft touches of reality that mix perfectly with the clever comedy of errors. It is easy to relate to Vince's problems with his father, friends, and girlfriend. Korman's latest offering is a wonderful sauce filled with brilliant characterization, sneaky plot twists, and humor that will make teens fall off their chairs with laughter.

Book Hook
  • If you enjoyed this book, try its prequel, Son of the Mob (2002).
  • Korman has also written many other books for middle and high school, among them, One False Note in the "39 Clues" series and "on the Run," a series of books about teen siblings Aidan and Meg Falconer who get involved with the FBI when their parents are imprisoned for a crime they didn't commit.
Online Connections
Gordon Korman's official website, including his brand new blog.

Vardell, Sylvia. 2003. Texas Woman's University. LS 5623 Adv. Lit for Young Adults. Online Lectures > Module 2: Realism, Romance & Censorship > Evaluation Criteria. Accessed 9/22/2009.

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