By Mark Ramos
One quick glance at the resume of Charley Heenan, and she’d probably get a job just about anywhere.
She’s delivered newspapers, waited tables, tended bar, knocked on doors for political campaigns and has even analyzed logistics for the military. The lifelong Philadelphia-area resident’s latest venture, though, is writing full-time and what better place to start than with a story that begins right here, at home.
Heenan’s novel, Danny’s Boys, tells the story of a group of friends, Irish-American 20-somethings from Northeast Philadelphia, who discover their beloved parish priest abused a friend. The book’s main characters are charming, funny and genuine. They are the kind of folks you’d meet around the local pub in the neighborhood and the kind of people Heenan knew her whole life.
“I have a lot of friends from the Northeast and there’s a little piece of different people I knew in these characters,” the St. Joe’s graduate said. “When you write a book, you’re going to spend a lot of time with these characters, so you want to make them people you’d want to hang out with.”
The book also addresses delicate discussions around identity (can you be Irish and not Catholic?) and the traumatic pain inadvertently caused by supporting institutions that experience clergy abuse. The characters grapple with their Catholic faith, heritage, history and a scary realization that it may be best to walk away entirely from an institution that they knew and trusted all their lives.
Over her 10-year process, Heenan realized that the church had evolved in how it treats its victims, but there were still cases that weighed on her mind, as she researched the project.
“There were a couple of cases that stuck with me,” Heenan said. “Then, a friend of mine passed away before his time and he was a victim of abuse, so it had been on my mind. I just think the church could do better; I wanted to lay out some of the issues.”
For Heenan, Northeast Philadelphia remained the perfect backdrop for her story. For the sense of camaraderie in an inner-city community, from the CYO programs to representing the parish one belongs to, it represented a place where people are still very much connected by a similar upbringing. In fact, many of Heenan’s friends still reside here or have married someone from the neighborhood. Writing Danny’s Boys never felt like a chore to her, as it allowed her to come to the area and chat with pals again.
“I think Northeast Philadelphia embodies such a tight-knit community,” Heenan said. “In terms of storytelling, if you want to see a community face a dilemma, there’s just much more emotion in the Northeast then, say in comparison, a neighborhood in the suburbs. You just wouldn’t have that same angst. Northeast Philly is just a lovely place.”
Danny’s Boys is due for release in October by BQB Publishing. On Oct. 12 at 7 p.m., the public is invited to Heenan’s book launch at Cheshire Brewery in Elkins Park. ••