Book Review: “This Boy: The Early Lives of John Lennon & Paul McCartney” by Ilene Cooper

You can almost hear the cheering.

You’ll have a lot of fans, once you’re famous, and they’ll be wild to see you in person. You can imagine them, reaching for you, begging you to touch their outstretched fingers, to touch their lives for just a minute. In your imagination, the stage is yours. In the new book “This Boy: The Early Lives of John Lennon & Paul McCartney” by Ilene Cooper, so is the audience.

England and Germany had been at war for since 1939 and everywhere – especially in the seaport city of Liverpool – blackouts kept the nights dark. It was into this world that John Winston Lennon was born in the fall of 1940.

Young John’s parents were both musically-minded: his mother loved to sing and his father was the talented player of several instruments. Alas, when John was nearly five years old, his home life became unbearable and he was sent to live with his Aunt Mimi, who was said to have “wanted John” from the moment he was born. Mimi and her husband, George, gave John the stability he needed, and they nurtured his interests, including that of the guitar.

Surprisingly not too far away, Paul McCartney was growing up with an interest in music, too.

Nearly two years younger than John, Paul’s home life meant that the family moved often, but he had both parents around. It was Paul’s father who urged the lad to take up a musical instrument, so he’d “always be invited to” parties.

Though they’d often traveled the same streets, the boys were teenagers when they finally met. John had already formed a skiffle band with friends. Paul went to see them perform, and he was less-than-impressed. He figured he was a better musician than the lot of them.

John, says Cooper, thought about inviting Paul to join the band but he had a dilemma. 

He wondered “what it would take to keep Paul in line.”

If you’re an adult reader, you may be excited about this book but you might also wonder about its relevance for an intended audience of middle-graders. Will a kid care about a guy who’s been dead more than forty (forty!!) years and a guy who’s older than their grandpa?

The answer is, well, yes.

With McCartney’s appearance on the new Stones album and the resurgence of Lennon’s music, “This Boy” is as relevant as ever – maybe even more so to young musicians and music lovers, since that’s music they grew up with. Author Ilene Cooper tells the tale of Lennon & McCartney with a focus on a time-frame that kids can identify with; she also includes enough back story to give young readers a good idea of how these two guitarists got their starts. 

Going further, Cooper touches upon The Beatles, but not so that it distracts from the main reason for this book. That keeps this tale one that kids 10-and-up will enjoy but that adult fanswill want, too. “This Boy” is a book you’ll both cheer for.

c.2023, Viking​​​​


184 pages