Boy has always been relegated to the outskirts of his small village. With a large hump on his back, a mysterious past, and a tendency to talk to animals, he is often mocked and abused by the other kids in his town. Until the arrival of a shadowy pilgrim named Secondus. Impressed with Boy’s climbing and jumping abilities, Secondus engages Boy as his servant, pulling him int...
|Title||:||The Book of Boy|
|Author||:||Catherine Gilbert Murdock|
The Book of Boy Reviews
Loved the tale! Many reviews are comparing this to the Inquisitor’s Tale. I did not like The Inquisitor’s Tale. That story bored me. I liked this story much more. The book reminded me of Avi’s Crispin. I really liked the relationship build up of Secundus and Boy. In the end, the needed each other.
Soo good! The writing, the characters, the action-packed plot, the historical details. The ending let it down a tiny bit, but overall I just loved it and it's definitely my favorite of the year so far!
Like others, I think Gidwitz’s The Inquisitor’s Tale is the obvious point of comparison. This book is much better written, often beautiful, but uncanny to the point that I wonder if some people will find this inaccessible, especially compared to Gidwitz.
One of the best books I've read all year. Wildly original, and the voice - holy moly!
When you think about it, many authors of children must have something they’re afraid to write. Some book or idea or concept that tempts them but that they wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot-pole. Religion is probably right up there on some people’s lists, regardless of the denomination. Is there a way to incorporate it seamlessly into a fantasy novel, retaining the parts you want, eschewing the rest? Is it wise to include at all? What constitutes religious writing at all? It’s rare that a book writt
When you think about it, many authors of children must have something they’re afraid to write. Some book or idea or concept that tempts them but that they wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot-pole. Religion is probably right up there on some people’s lists, regardless of the denomination. Is there a way to incorporate it seamlessly into a fantasy novel, retaining the parts you want, eschewing the rest? Is it wise to include at all? What constitutes religious writing at all? It’s rare that a book written for kids between the ages of nine to twelve makes me raise such questions at all, but I think a lot of us would agree that
by Catherine Gilbert Murdock isn’t just any old book. A skillful amalgamation of fantasy, religion, and just a hint of philosophy, Murdock eschews the old good vs. evil narrative for something, perhaps, more interesting: Truth vs. Delusion.
Everyone calls him Boy and he likes it that way. His is a simple life of tending the goats for the manor in the year 1350. He may be a hunchback and have to deal with the cruelty of kids his age, but life isn’t so bad. That is, until a stranger comes to call. Ostensibly a pilgrim, the man calls himself Secundus. He is in dire need of a boy to help him carry his mysterious pack. That and . . . some other odd jobs, let’s say. Boy doesn’t want to go at first, but as he learns more about Secundus’s quest, he begins to hope against hope. You see, Secundus seeks the relics of St. Peter so as to save his soul. Boy, on the other hand, wants his hump to go away. Could St. Peter help him with that? Or is there more to Boy than even he is willing to admit?
Generally speaking, Murdock has remained pretty squarely in the camp of the young adult novelist. Nothing wrong with that, of course. It’s just meant that I haven’t been able to read as many of her books as I’d like. I remember enjoying
some years ago, of course. In this book for younger readers she scales back her text. Which, by extension, means reigning in character exposition as well. With the very first chapter we need to not only meet Boy but also love him. We also meet Secundus, and, like Boy, we don’t know what to make of him. The chapter itself is no longer than seven pages. How do you establish character in so short an amount of time? In the case of Boy, Murdock opts to show us his kindness and joy. He loves his life, as you can clearly see, just as much as he loves his goats. Secundus is introduced as insulting and brash in the first chapter, but in the second he defends Boy from a bully. Even then, you don’t know what to make of him. Excellent fodder for a story, don’t you think?
We live in times when people create fantasy novels for children exceeding three hundred, four hundred, sometimes even five hundred pages or more. All this to bring them stories they haven’t heard a hundred times before. It’s given me a taste for brevity, if nothing else. My husband has a phrase he likes to use when he sees a film that’s under two hours: “handsome”. Well, in every sense of the word
is a “handsome” novel. Weighing in at 278 pages the book could easily have been little more than one hundred if it had been printed a different way. No expense has been spared in its production. The pages are thick and beveled. The original artist assigned to it was exchanged for Ian Schoenherr, a man capable of replicating a very specific woodblock style. It’s a class act from start to finish, but even more than that it’s a book that knows how to distill an adventure down to its most singular elements. There’s not a word, a thought, or a concept out of place.
If kids complain about anything with this book, though, it’ll probably concern how little additional information we receive about Boy throughout the text. Just as a warning, I’m going to spill the beans on the big reveal in this book, so if you’re spoiler-averse I’d advise you to skip on down to the next paragraph. All set? Okay. So as I mentioned earlier, putting a big dollop of religion in your middle grade fantasy is by no means unheard of, it’s just tricky to pull off. Adam Gidwitz gave it a good shot in
and received a Newbery Honor for his troubles. Murdock is traipsing along similar lines, but where Gidwitz is loquacious, she’s circumspect. Where he’s effusive she’s restrained. Both books involve angels, but where Gidwitz’s is all-knowing, Murdock’s could not be less well informed about, well, anything. We don’t really learn anything about him that he himself didn’t already know. Where he came from, why he’s here, and what he’s supposed to do . . . these are all left to the reader’s interpretation. Murdock’s giving you the dots, but you’re going to have to connect them yourself. Nothing is done for the reader here.
I can only speak for myself, but the real lure of this book might not be the characters, the mysteries, the setting, or even the mysterious relics. The book has something a little more difficult to pin down, and even harder to attain. It’s a sheer pleasure to read. I mean it. The chapters whiz on by, daring you to put the book down for even one iota of a second. Somehow Murdock has managed to write something simultaneously archaic in form and incredibly enticing to the modern eye. And it really doesn’t matter if the Christianity here gels with your own religious beliefs or strikes you as 100% foreign. Boy is the kind of character you can’t help but love. You want to go with him on this journey and, more to the point, you want him to see it to its end. If Boy is the living embodiment of kindness and joy, I can think of no better guide for young readers to encounter. We have a lot of dark, depressing, necessary books out there. Once, just once, let’s enjoy the one unafraid to let a little light and laughter in.
For ages 9-12.
Definitely see comparisons to The Inquisitor’s Tale, but I thought this would be easier for students to understand on their own. A nice adventure with some surprising twists.
Think Gidwitz's The Inquisitor's Tale and Whalen Turner's The Thief. Medieval setting, Mission Impossible-like quest for religious relics, and a few fun plot twists. Fun and original.
Well-written, but odd. And the medieval setting makes it unlikely that many kids will pick it up. The strong religious elements may create strong feelings as they did with me.
The Book of Boy is an uncomplicated tale about a pilgrim, Secundus, and a hunchbacked boy, Boy, going on a quest to collect seven relics of Saint Peter in early fourteenth century France and Italy. Relics have no special hold on my imagination, but I am currently obsessed with the medieval period, so I jumped at a chance to read this one. Seeing comparisons to The Inquisitor’s Tale (which now seem very much unmerited) piqued my interest even further. Unfortunately, the book did not live up to my
The Book of Boy is an uncomplicated tale about a pilgrim, Secundus, and a hunchbacked boy, Boy, going on a quest to collect seven relics of Saint Peter in early fourteenth century France and Italy. Relics have no special hold on my imagination, but I am currently obsessed with the medieval period, so I jumped at a chance to read this one. Seeing comparisons to The Inquisitor’s Tale (which now seem very much unmerited) piqued my interest even further. Unfortunately, the book did not live up to my expectations.
While early chapters painted an interesting portrait of going on a pilgrimage and the ways that relics shaped the lives of different kinds of people in society, the book did not offer much more of interest than that. One would think that stealing a series of guarded holy relics would make for a story that was exciting and fun, with some moral reflection adding a touch of richness. Imagine National Treasure, but a bit less ridiculous, with some historical and religious elements. That is not what this book is. The thefts, trades, and sometimes outright purchases of relics in the story happen quickly without too much conflict or surprises. More often than not, the pair is saved by an incredibly convenient key to hell that opens all locks OR Boy’s fantastic ability to communicate telepathically with animals. The relic quest very quickly becomes repetitive, with the threat of capture feeling less real with every successful theft. And none of this is improved by Boy’s clueless and naive narration.
Here is your big spoiler: Boy is an angel. Except it is not much of a spoiler because Murdock constantly hints this from the start. Based on the other reviews I have read here, I might be in the minority of seeing this “twist” from the get-go, as well as Secundus being a natural opposite, coming from Hell. By the time the specifics of each character’s circumstances is revealed halfway through the novel, it adds little to the way we read the story. In fact, Boy’s angel-ness is a point of confusion. Where did he come from? How is he ignorant of his nature, especially when he is basically genderless and does not eat? Does he have a hump or is the hump made of crumpled wings? Were his wings stuck inside his hump, which shrinks as they grow? Why is he so ashamed and afraid to accept that he is an angel? In fact, he sees spreading his wings as some kind of unholy temptation. And despite the slow embrace of his identity, Boy still yearns to complete the relic quest in the hopes he will become a normal boy. All of this feels somewhat messy.
Secundus the pilgrim is equally murky, but in his case it at least feels more intentional. He has escaped hell with the surge of souls brought there by the plague. So many arriving that no one notices one man sneaking out. Apparently he also spent some time down there interviewing those who knew a thing or two about the relics of Saint Peter, because he has a whole book of tips to get them. He does this with the end goal of getting a chance to go to heaven and see his family again. A long lost son adds some complexity to his relationship with Boy. I wish he had been the narrator for this book, because his arc is more interesting and feels more complete by the end of the story. It is not clear if he actually makes it to heaven nor is it clear if he deserves to get there by stealing. It’s suggested he speaks through a dog in the denouement, but exactly what happened remains unknown. I suppose this is a bit of mystery that I feel okay with.
At the conclusion, Boy returns home with a newish (maybe more self aware?) goal to help people and wings that hide themselves more conveniently. He has changed, in being less ignorant than at the start, but I was left wondering why it was this quest that helped him to this point. I have no real takeaways from this story in terms of a message or even characters I got enough from to love. Angels are good and we should be too? Endeavor to help people both good and bad? Say what you will about Inquisitor’s Tale, it was more fun, more inclusive, more exciting, and asked interesting theological questions. For this reader, there is no comparison.