Although the story incorporates elements of horror, it is more the story of a young boy’s coming of age and losing his innocence as he struggles to understand the forces of good and evil at work in his hometown of Zephyr, Alabama. Populating the book with references to popular culture, McCammon is able to re-create the world of 1964. Although there are elements of horror in the novel, it is more a work of high fantasy that utilizes the voice of an engaging young narrator that calls out from the recent past, allowing the reader to recapture childhood innocence.
The innocence of childhood—a world in which a boy’s bike ride becomes a flight and Famous Monsters of Filmland is required boyhood reading—is the most important aspect of McCammon’s work. McCammon once said that he uses innocence as “the author’s sense of wonder, at the characters and the setting and even the spooky elements.” Without this sense of wonder, the incidents in Boy’s Life would be merely a series of events that would read as relatively disjointed. With the sense of wonder, Boy’s Life is McCammon’s fictional autobiography as well as a celebration of childhood mystery and marvel, filled with targeted details and fully realized, rounded characters.
With the marked sensibilities of such diverse influences as Mark Twain, Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee, and even Steven Spielberg, McCammon is able to shift his tale from the moral to the magical and back again, telling a coming-of-age story that is part mystery, part magic, part wonder, and part innocence. Using all the attendant forms of popular culture available to a twelve-year-old boy in 1964—comic books, baseball, roadside carnivals, monster films, and magazines—McCammon writes a paean to boyhood that is as effective as it is affecting. Boy’s Life is peopled with some of the most memorable southern characters in southern fiction.