A surprisingly tender coming-of-age story of a close-knit yet tough Sicilian-American family that accepts and welcomes a young boy struggling to understand himself—by the former Daily News (New York) gossip columnist and E! television host.
A.J. Benza’s distinctive blend of wit, dry humor, and genuine tenderness shines through this candid, compelling memoir about the summer of 1974 when his shy, effeminate cousin comes to live with A.J.’s family, which is dominated by his short-tempered, outspoken, hyper-masculine father. At its core, A.J.’s story is about learning that “being exactly who you were meant to be is the only thing that matters.” Through anecdotes of fishing with his father, playing tackle football, and conquering neighborhood bullies, he tells a story of triumph and acceptance, of a loving but rough around the edges family that puts aside its prejudices to welcome with open arms a young boy struggling to understand his sexuality and ultimately accept himself.
In a sometimes raw and always endearing voice, ’74 and Sunny is a revelatory account of a life-defining summer on Long Island, when tolerance wins over ignorance, family neutralizes fear, and love triumphs over all. For anyone who’s navigated the choppy seas of adolescence, this story about redefining what it means to be a man, and learning to accept those whom we might fail to understand will surely resonate.
A.J. Benza is a regular contributor to Playboy and Penthouse. Benza was New York City’s most celebrated gossip columnist in the 1990s, writing and editing both “Hot Copy” and “Downtown” columns for the Daily News (New York). He also continues to be a regular on the Howard Stern Sirius radio show. His television credits include hosting and producing E!’s Mysteries & Scandals, co-hosting Game Show Network’s highest-rated series, High Stakes Poker, and creating, producing, writing, and hosting his own late night talk show, A.J. After Hours. A married father of three, Benza currently lives in Los Angeles.
"A sometimes-abrasive radio and TV personality's unexpectedly touching memoir about "the best summer of [his] life." Benza's depiction of how he, his father, and his cousin change is what is most satisfying about this book. That one family could make a difference in the life of a misunderstood boy and in turn be transformed by interactions with him is an uplifting message about the true nature of love. A warm and honest memoir."
"You might cry."
– The New York Daily News
“Benza’s genial memoir recalls the memorable summer of 1974 when he was 12 and his 10-year-old cousin, Gino, came to stay...Throughout, A. J. and Gino share the spotlight with A. J.’s larger-than-life father, who nearly steals the show. But his antics are all part of Benza’s glowing memories of a happy time and of getting to know his cousin and learning to value his differences.”
"In this memoir, Benza deals thoroughly with his immigrant roots…and chooses a moment…when he and his brothers and sisters took in a cousin from Jersey for the summer…The Benzas (mainly A.J.) took this sensitive unusual cousin in and tried to teach him what it was to be “a tough guy” in a family that didn’t tolerate sissies…The Benzas lived and learned and their eventual acceptance, tenderness and humanity give us a frank learning process that is great to read about.”
– Liz Smith
"74 and Sunny is a quiet, touching, worthwhile read about the power of family...a terrific story."