The novel begins in the summer of 1962 at Camp Chippewa in northern Wisconsin, with the bugler waiting for Nelson Doughty to come and play to wake the troops for another day of earning merit badges and learning skills that will last a life time. Doughty is someone who has a knack for scouting; he knows his knots better than most leaders and how to start a fire that stays lit for quite some time. Doughty sleeps by himself in his tent with no bunkmates and no friends.
The Hearts of Men is a coming of age story that shows how boys become men, and essentially how to be a good human as told through the aspect of the Boy Scouts. Doughty is thirteen years old and a social pariah who gets bullied a fair share. He wears glasses and overly enjoys the pleasantries of being neat and tidy.
Nickolas Butler, an author that is unknown to many, writes a nostalgic, gut-punching plot that elicits emotions from times in one’s life. Where comradery and solitude intertwine to make up a picturesque-story that expands decades all in 386 pages.
Growing up in Eau Claire, Wis., Doughty throws himself a birthday party for turning 13. After inviting all the boys in the neighborhood, he waits, peering out the window seeing if anyone is walking up to the house. Not one boy shows. Doughty, being the good kid he is breaks down and wants to know why he is not liked by the other boys. As he sobs in his mother’s bosom, a boy named Jonathan Quick, a nice neighborhood kid who has a soft spot for Doughty, shows up to the house. He also happens to be the most athletic, popular boy in town. Quick drops off a birthday gift and leaves within the hour. But during the course of the book an event takes place that lines Quick and Doughty into a friendship that intertwines into a brotherhood that lasts a lifetime.
Now Butler is gifted at what he does, but this book is the ultimate cliché: kid gets bullied, kid has no friends, kid becomes friends with popular boy, etc. This made the story predictable and dull to the extent it became hard for me to turn the page, but it does get better by exploring the moralities of human beings and what it means to be a good person.
During the second half of the book, the reader learns of the hard life Quick has led. During his later years he becomes an alcoholic, is divorced and all around unhappy with life. His son Trevor doesn’t like him. As he is driving Trevor to the same Camp Chippewa, he is hoping to bond with his son. The scoutmaster when he gets up to Camp Chippewa is none other than, surprise-surprise, Doughty. There, the bond of friendship is reignited.
This book contains a fortitude of good morals that all should have instilled in their mind, and Nickolas Butler does a great job at telling this story through trial and error of the boy scouts. However, for me, it fell flat with its predictability.