Book Review: ‘Sunday Gravy’

Book Review: ‘Sunday Gravy’

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Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“Good friends, a hot summer day, on their way to the beach, and not a care in the world.”

Author Robert Lorenzo

It’s never too late for an engaging summer read. Sunday Gravy by Robert Lorenzo is a sincere, brisk novel that is just the right blend of naivete and coming-of-age. Dealing with the day-to-day heartaches of adolescence and greater issues, the book is a page-turning adventure exploring the chasm between childhood and maturity and the burgeoning self-awareness.

Set in the fictional Heatherwood, in the very real Setauket of 1974, the streets sit on what were once potato fields. The setting is Suffolk County, post-pastoral but prior to the siege of condos and developments. 

The story depicts the highs and lows of summer in the height of a heatwave, viscerally painted throughout. Here, boys gather in a fort made from abandoned crates, ride their bicycles to get ice cream, and dream of girls. Lorenzo shares the universal yet is always specific. While the boys’ experiences are easily recognizable, they are uniquely detailed. 

Eastern Long Island is a world of fathers who work in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens and mothers who stay home: 

“Their long days of chugging to work on the train and fulfilling their forty-hour work weeks kept them away from home for too many hours […] Up before dawn and home after dark, the task of disciplining the kids fell onto the sturdy shoulders of their loyal wives. Tired from running their households every day and raising their kids virtually on their own, a lot slid by the moms, who were very willing to ignore minor infractions.”

At the center of the story is thirteen-year-old Eddie Ragusa, who idolizes his brother, Tommy, two years his senior. Good looking and self-assured, Tommy has his first girlfriend, the beautiful and slightly older Maria. “Maria was another puzzle piece, but more like a silky one he’d found unexpectedly on the floor that didn’t quite fit anywhere in the current puzzle. She was unexpected, but welcome. The way he felt about her was new and exciting. This was his first real relationship, and he had real feelings for her.” 

Tommy and Maria are Our Town’s George and Emily for a savvier time. While they are actively intimate, there is still innocence and awakening. Tommy is in the rush and flush of first love, where every moment means something: hours of phone calls, of anticipation. Lorenzo writes with accuracy, of hormones and hope, but also with kindness. His young people wade through their own truths and struggle with hypocrisies. There is sex and drugs, but there is also a genuine connection.

Joining the brothers in the narrative are Eddie’s buddies Darren O’Leary, Michael Dorazio, and K.K. Krause, a ragtag crew of mixed ethnic backgrounds, enjoying the freedom of being young in the suburbs. Whether fantasizing about the divorcée on the corner or sharing an illicitly “borrowed” magazine, their bond is genuine.

Lorenzo introduces a range of characters into the mix, creating a landscape of family and community. The recluse Anne Clarkson is notable in the roster. Dubbed “Old Lady Annie” by the kids, she is a smart blend of bogeyman and tragic figure. Her introduction to the narrative bears interesting fruit.

There are plenty of local references —Smith Point County Park, Carvel’s, the Port Jefferson Firemen’s Carnival, West Meadow Beach, The Dining Car 1890, Mario’s restaurant, Ward Melville High School, Comsewogue High School, etc. — that ground it in its Long Island locale. 

The fort, central to the story, is cleverly shown through three different perspectives: the adolescents who embrace it as a refuge; the young adults as a haven to cut loose; and the adults who regard it warily. Best of all, Lorenzo understands the fine line and great divide between ages thirteen and fifteen.

Ultimately, the Ragusas are the driving force and center. Lorenzo insightfully explores both functional and dysfunctional domestic dynamics with a revelation that separates and reunites the clan. Finally, in the wake of a terrible accident, there is a portrait of the power of neighborhood, where disparate people set aside their differences and come together to help their children recover.

With Sunday Gravy, Robert Lorenzo has fashioned an honest, entertaining tale of the joys and heartaches of youth. He celebrates the untidiness of life and what it means to hurt and heal, to live and forgive.


Author Robert Lorenzo was born in Queens and grew up in East Setauket.  He spent his childhood playing outside, riding bikes, exploring the woods in and around his home, and visiting the beautiful beaches all over the region. He began his first career in the advertising industry in New York City and now teaches high school English in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Lorenzo is currently working on his second novel, inspired by the recent worldwide pandemic. 

Visit his website at and pick up a copy of Sunday Gravy online at