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Phoenixville Rising

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“PHOENIXVILLE RISING is a beautifully written love letter to the American industrial town. In a novel spanning centuries, and centering on three hard-luck kids, Sketch and Tara and the unforgettable Boo -- clear-eyed and reckless and insanely-loyal Boo -- Robb Cadigan gives us a timeless story of the enduring legacies of love and friendship. Noir and romantic and richly emotional, PHOENIXVILLE RISING is superb.”

- William Lashner, New York Times bestselling author of the Victor Carl series and THE BARKEEP

NOTHING EVER HAPPENS HERE. This is what he told himself, back when he was just a punk kid, wasting time with petty crimes and the Furnace Boys down at the abandoned steel mill. A dead-end life, sure, but he had an escape plan.


Now, after thirty years, he's finally coming home. To the phantoms of his own past ... and the hometown history he tried to leave behind.

PHOENIXVILLE RISING: a tale of rebirth and redemption in small-town America


323 pages, Paperback

First published September 25, 2013

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About the author

Robb Cadigan

1 book18 followers
A former advertising copywriter and television executive, Robb Cadigan lives with his wife and two children in Chester County, Pennsylvania.

Before becoming a full-time writer, Cadigan shucked oysters, drove a forklift, waited tables, sold clothes, edited TV GUIDE, and wrote advertisements for products as diverse as shoes, watches, and vacuum cleaners. For thirteen years, he was a marketing and television executive for QVC and helped develop the retailer into the world’s most profitable TV channel.

Cadigan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Bucknell University. His well-received short story “Baptism” appeared in the popular CHESTER COUNTY FICTION anthology.

PHOENIXVILLE RISING is his first novel.

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5 stars
57 (34%)
4 stars
66 (39%)
3 stars
37 (22%)
2 stars
4 (2%)
1 star
2 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 37 reviews
Profile Image for Anne.
34 reviews2 followers
February 13, 2014
I was really disappointed in this book until I decided it really should be a Young Adult book in spite of the adult story bookends. There is something about the style of writing or the fairly simplistic storyline that just didn't click for me unless it was YA. That isn't an insult considering how successful some YA books have been lately, but I don't think the right target audience was chosen. Maybe using the few swear words was more important than opening up the audience since maybe you can't use the f-word in YA. If it isn't YA, then there should have been a little more impact from that adult story that surrounds the story of the teens.

I think this book has a lot of promise, but I feel like it is still not in its final draft. I do think that the author probably needed a tougher editor/reviewer to really bring a stronger voice to his main character and to create a more realistic level of evil in his book. Additionally, the use of these nicknames for all the characters enhanced both the YA feeling of the book and/or the fact that this never rose to the level of a real mafia story. I did appreciate the other "historical" story that was being woven throughout the book and I thought the authorial voice was actually a little better in those sections.

As someone familiar with Phoenixville, some of the historical inaccuracies of the 80's (like the Firebird Festival) were annoying, but I understand that for others this wouldn't matter. Also, for a town of approximately 14,000, the rampant crime depicted would have been a bigger deal than was in the story. Maybe Reading would have been a better choice size-wise. There is also a mistake on page 191 "gotta to."

25 reviews
September 4, 2013
Fabulous book with unforgettable characters! An insightful look into the cultural impact of economic transition, capturing both the beginnings of the industrial revolution and the beginnings of the transition from an industrial to a data/service driven economy, which is still underway today. Robb Cadigan's fiction is historically very plausible as well as emotionally engaging. Each time he moves from one era to the other you find yourself almost regretting stepping away from one story line, but quickly absorbed into the other era's characters and events. I highly recommend this book, not just to residents of the real town of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, but to all readers with an interest in great characters, a gripping story, and a thought-provoking view into American cultural forces in transition.
Profile Image for Melissa.
283 reviews2 followers
December 30, 2013
Being from Phoenixville, I liked the setting - even the intentionally vague places were familiar. And he didn't need to be descriptive with the library, the corner store, the steel mill, etc. because they were MY library, corner store and steel mill. Phoenixville was a main character in this book and I loved it. Five stars.
The plot was good but I felt it lacking some. It took me a long time to get into the Rebecca story and when I finally did, it ended shortly afterward. The teenage years were the best part and the adult years had potential, but I felt that they had a lot of loose ends that could have been tied up. Instead, I felt the ending was rushed and all of the story lines were quickly finished. Three stars.
I'd definitely recommend (and have) to locals but I don't know if a non-resident would appreciate the book as much.
Profile Image for Lisa.
4 reviews
September 27, 2013
Past and present intertwine; how much of life do we determine, and what is determined for us? Robb explores these themes and more in Phoenixville Rising. Beautifully imagined and written, the old Phoenixville comes alive in a story that spans a week - and a lifetime. I felt the tidal pull of the past on the present and the present on the past as the story pulled me along in its wake. I found myself trying to plunge into Phoenixville-then to change events - because I came to care so much about the characters that I wanted to save them from what was (was it?) inevitable. This book pulled me under from the very beginning. I emerged satisfied - but wanting more. A good place to be for a book lover.
Profile Image for Pam.
396 reviews55 followers
June 3, 2014
I don't want to give too much away but the girl in this book is me. If you ask Robb he will strongly deny it, but I'm not ashamed to admit he and I are old friends and he's just one of a million teenage boys crushing on me when we were kids. Now that I've gotten that fantasy writing out of the way, please see my blog post (forthcoming) for more details of this delightful coming of age tale. It's good stuff.
Profile Image for Carrie Panetta.
103 reviews1 follower
April 3, 2014
This was an enjoyable read set in my hometown. The author really captured the spirit of the place.
Profile Image for Renea.
182 reviews6 followers
November 1, 2018
Since Phoenixville is my hometown, I recognized all of the locations mentioned throughout the book. However, I don’t know how enjoyable this book would be to folks who have never lived in Phoenixville, since the location is a very integral part of the story. Like other reviewers have mentioned, the book felt more like a YA novel, and I felt it would have been better without Rebecca Wilton’s story so more time could have been devoted to developing the other characters, like Deacon and the other Furnace Boys, or even a clearer explanation of what happened to Sketch and Boo’s brothers.
Profile Image for Jean Szegedy.
27 reviews
February 6, 2018
It was ok for a simple, easy read. I found it interesting to see another person’s take on Phoenixville in the 1980’s. The writing and character development, in my opinion, was more suited to the teen reader.
Profile Image for Jason Bennett.
138 reviews2 followers
March 3, 2018
Fantastic blend of historical fiction, Outsiders style coming of age story, and reflection on ones childhood as a parent!
57 reviews
February 6, 2023
The author deftly weaves 3 timelines together into an engaging story about life, love, and searching for one's place in the world.
Profile Image for cat news.
23 reviews10 followers
March 10, 2023
Twenty-nine years after I left Phoenixville, this book makes me want to visit again! The stories are compelling! Surprisingly I picked up this book in bookshop in Gotanda, Tokyo.
16 reviews
July 27, 2015
Reading a finely crafted piece of historical literature set in a time and place one knows, but has only read about, is one thing. But to read one that is set in the almost too familiar surroundings of one’s own home town is another. And that is exactly what local author Robb Cadigan has done in his first novel, "Phoenixville Rising", a coming-of-age fictional tale that perfectly captures Phoenixville’s essence, flavor, and sense of history. A metaphor, for that matter, for any small American town in the throes of rebirth.

Sketch Walker and his best friend Boo are two clicks away from juvenile delinquency in 1980 when, with its foundry closed, the small borough set in the northern hills of Chester County, PA was rapidly deteriorating into a somber, sobering depression. Residents struggled to find and keep work; the borough council struggled to find ways to raise spirits and funds; and children sought ways to stay focused, optimistic about the future, and…amused.

Asthmatic Boo’s highest ambition was to be full-fledged member of Deacon’s “Furnace Boys” – the rough gang who used the upper floor office of the decrepit abandoned steel mill as their headquarters. He and would do anything to attain what he thought was a boy’s highest status in life. Sketch – so nicknamed because of his amazing drawing talent – often assisted Boo in his procurement raids. But as he adulthood stirs within him, he begins to feel differently from his best friend. While considering it his responsibility to protect and defend Boo, he begins to think that perhaps it would be best if he left his hometown and its dead-end existence. His struggles with these dichromatic feelings are the foundational pith of "Phoenixville Rising". Told in the first person, it relates the events of that fateful autumn that lead up to and culminate in personal and communal tragedy.

In a concurrent plot line set in the 1860s era, young Rebecca Wilton, daughter of the foundry owner, falls hopelessly in love with a young factory worker who, after giving her an onyx – black diamond – necklace bravely marches off to war. As he binds Sketch’s, Boo’s, and Rebecca’s stories together with the precious jewelry, Cadigan expertly – and compassionately – explores the inner minds and souls of his three main protagonists as they come to grips with misfortune, calamity, and heartbreak.

I was really taken by this narrative, especially with the descriptions of local places, real-life streets, and some characters obviously based upon real-time locals. I found myself during my four-day read, gasping at how familiar everything was, trying to second-guess the author. What is fact? Based upon fact? Pure speculation? Fiction? Cadigan, it seems, is a master at combining fact with fiction in sthat perfect way a good novel should blend realities with figments of the author's imagination.

In and of a town that some real-life residents still complain is uneventfully dull, "Phoenixville Rising" is a profoundly powerful story of both a town’s resurrection and a man’s redemption. It is an exciting, must read for any local resident even remotely interested in their heritage. A must read for anyone, anywhere looking for a discerning literary diversion.
Profile Image for Paul.
14 reviews
November 30, 2016
Robb Cadigan’s debut novel is a wonderfully vivid portrait of a town, of a way of life and of the people who inhabit it today and who created it over a century ago.
Through parallel narratives perceptively woven together, the author connects the birth death and resurrection of a quintessentially American industrial town through the love, courage and loyalty of unlikely heroes past and present. His two central characters are authentic and richly drawn but are heroes no less unlikely as they evoke visions of the unlikeliest of movie heroes, Ratso and Joe Buck.
But it’s Cadigan's gift for beautifully written and at times poetic prose that makes PHOENIXVILLE RISING at its core a love story wrought with intelligence, depth and most prominently hope that is by any measure of a writer’s experience, a glowing literary accomplishment.
Profile Image for Michael.
319 reviews5 followers
August 20, 2015
The ending nearly had me in tears

I need to search for more information on Phoenixville. The characters were endearing, at least the ones who were meant to be. I know the idea of happy endings is passe in modern fiction, and I expected the characters would come to sad endings, but that isn't what I found saddest about the story. Coming from a working class background myself, I hoped that Phoenixville would "rise" in a way which celebrated the American worker. But no: It seemed to celebrate anything but that. Sketch should have stuck to his art, MHO, and he could have used some of Boo's emotionalism, rather than fearing that part of his humanity. Yet I enjoyed the book, despite the way Phoenixville arose.
Profile Image for Janet Ursel.
Author 2 books8 followers
June 5, 2014
Cadigan writes with care, and discreet touches of poetic language are testimony to his awareness of the power of words. The characters, at least in the central story, are well-developed and complex and we ache for all of them. The author balances the grimness of the story with a dose of hope, something the title more than hints at. The metaphor of rebirth from flame and ash is central to the story, Phoenixville itself being a metaphor for Sketch's own resurrection, although his past has left an indelible mark on his soul. It is a bittersweet story, and well worth the read.

Complete review here
Profile Image for Jean.
72 reviews1 follower
October 22, 2013
Teenagers in the 1980s face uncertain futures in the town of Phoenixville, a town like many others throughout the country. The major industry has closed, and the town does not offer much to kids like Sketch and Boo. A story set within this narrative takes place in the 1860s at the beginning of the big factory's growth and the two centuries are tied together in a clever way. Phoenixville is the next town over, so the locations are familiar, but readers everywhere will enjoy seeing a slice of small town life.
Profile Image for Patricia.
297 reviews1 follower
February 11, 2015
Cadigan captures the "lost hope" of a rural town that relied on one industry which is now shut down. He carefully describes the setting and draws a clear image of setting and character for the reader. His adolescents react to the confines of a small town and the bleak economic future with varying degrees of risk. Unexpectedly he weaves in a story of the town during the Civil War when the furnace works were operating at full capacity. I was engaged from beginning to end.
Profile Image for Lolese.
91 reviews2 followers
January 12, 2014
This author is local to our area, and the book takes place in a local town. The familiar landmarks, in addition to the well-developed characters and the well-written dialogue made this an extremely enjoyable read for me. I intend to have my tween and teen children read it, and recommend it for all.
Profile Image for Tom.
119 reviews1 follower
March 24, 2014
This was a fun book to read having grown up in the town in which it takes place so I was able to easily visualize the locations. But, I found the plot predictable and a bit stereotyped and the writing a bit amateurish. This might be a good YA selection for its depiction of teenage angst and first love in a small, dying steel town. But other than that, I didn't find much to recommend it.
Profile Image for Dawn Herrick.
25 reviews
April 19, 2015
As a personal preference, I like books and movies to start at the beginning and go to the end. This book tells three stories from different times simultaneously. The local history and references were interesting but didn't seem to meld smoothly. Sometimes it felt like being switched from the story to a history book and back again. I would recommend it to locals.
1 review
June 17, 2015
If you grew up in any small town whose present doesn't live up to its past you will enjoy this book. Set primarily in 1980, the story moves between present day and this Pennsylvania town's founding in the late 1800s. A little bit of Civil War history, a little bit coming of age, intertwined around a few love stories: two couples, two friends and the love of a small town.
July 26, 2016
Good Reading

Interesting to read about the town I lived in for 8 years on Bridge St in 1970s before, during and after the closing of Phoenix Steel. Some of the novel's history and geography is very accurate. This combined with the storyline made it a good read and enjoyable novel.
Profile Image for Amy Sullivan.
12 reviews1 follower
November 4, 2013
I loved this book. I breezed through it in 2 days but I'll be thinking about for a long time. This story would provide a great discussion for a book club! Excellent first novel by Robb Cadigan. I can't wait to read more from him.
Profile Image for Becky Kline.
17 reviews1 follower
November 12, 2013
PHOENIXVILLE RISING was a terrific book. The writing flows so that as sadness creeps in you can still remain comfortable. The characters were well defined and as the story went back and forth from one story line to another you followed along easily. I recommend this book highly!
8 reviews
August 13, 2016
I guess I missed something. This was ok, but I found it disjointed. I grew up in Phoenixville in the 80's, so I thought it would hit home with me. Unfortunately, despite recognizing many of the referenced landmarks, it didn't grab my attention or match my recollection of the time.
45 reviews1 follower
October 23, 2014
This book was such a surprise! I kept envisioning places that are not in nearby Phoenixville but that I suppose are equally represented by the story. Young people finding their way in a period that was clearly depicted. The characters were sweet and memorable. Loved it.
June 13, 2015
A New Classic

A novel with a story I will never forget. The characters so real and emotional it is hard to let go of them. This is a love story, a mystery, a thriller, all uniquely written producing one of the best books I have ever read. Thank you Mr. Cadigan!
Profile Image for Roberta.
15 reviews
October 19, 2013
I enjoyed this book by a local author who incorporated tales of a small post-industrial town with the coming of age story of a boy.
Profile Image for Kit.
46 reviews
Want to read
November 3, 2013
I'm looking forward to reading this because this is my town! I'm curious as to how my town is portrayed in this book haha
137 reviews
November 10, 2013
A bit reminiscent of Stand By Me, a wonderful coming of age book with the young man's story intertwined with a lovely romantic twist. Beautifully written, thoroughly engaging!
Displaying 1 - 30 of 37 reviews

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