It has been a couple decades since writer David Michael Slater has lived in Squirrel Hill, but his teenage years growing up on the corner of Shady and Wilkins avenues most definitely played a key role in shaping his new novel, “Fun and Games.”
In fact, Slater, a 1988 Taylor Allderdice graduate who attended B’nai Israel Congregation in East Liberty, has set his coming-of-age novel in Squirrel Hill, and the protagonist of the book, 13-year-old Jonathan Schwartz, probably lives in the same house across the street from Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha in which Slater himself came of age.
The author of 16 picture books for children, as well as a teen book series called “Sacred Books” (the first book in that series, “The Book of Nonsense,” was recently ranked No. 1 on the free Kindle Kit Lit fantasy list), Slater now ventures into new territory with his comedic adult novel about a dysfunctional Jewish family.
But the story, he says, is far from biographical.
“Only the locations are the same,” he said, speaking from his home in Reno, Nev., where he teaches middle school English. “My life is not nearly that funny or dramatic.”
While “Fun and Games” was likened to “a 1980’s Jewish version of ‘The Wonder Years’” by the New York Journal of Books, Slater is quick to point out that his novel is “not as wholesome.”
“It’s an R-rated version of ‘The Wonder Years,’” he said. “It’s more accurate.”
The book commences on “the first Friday night in June 1983,” the night before Jonathan Schwartz’s bar mitzva “was supposed to have taken place,” and follows the exploits of his unusual family. The cast of characters includes Jonathan’s sisters “Nadia, the dark genius and Olivia, the gorgeous tease and temptress, [who] manipulates Jon and his friends for their own entertainment,” as well as his Holocaust- surviving grandparents, according to the book’s back cover.
Although the book will not be released by the small publisher until July 20, it has already garnered some positive attention. Publications such as “Entertainment Weekly” and “Time” have expressed interest in reviewing it, according to Slater.
“There’s no guarantee, but if they review it, then we’ve got a chance,” he said. “So far, everyone is loving it.”
“Fun and Games” will be available at all major book retailers, Slater said.
The prolific author is currently working on a new novel called “You Must Go On,” set at a summer camp for the profoundly gifted, and an early chapter book adventure series called “Mysterious Monsters.”
“Fun and Games,” by David Michael Slater, Library Tales Publishing Group, 2013, 226 pages, $12.99
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.)