The Book of Boy

Book review by
Joly Herman, Common Sense Media
The Book of Boy Book Poster Image
Boy seeks relics in fun, mystical Middle Ages fantasy.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Being immersed in medieval Europe boosts the historical value of this story. Readers will learn, as Boy does, how everyday people (pilgrims in particular) valued relics and saintly mythology. Some old-fashioned language in the text, such as "'twould" and '"twas."

Positive Messages

Being different can be a gift. Loyalty is its own reward. Fear will make you careful. Holding to your own values is crucial when they are tested. Sometimes wrong is actually right.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Boy experiences discrimination because of his hump, but his reaction to the primitive behavior of the people who surround him is admirable. Few people in Boy's life have been kind to him: Father Petrus' kindness is a distant memory. Secundus is both cruel and protective of Boy, but opens his heart at the end of the story. Notable females in this book play only supporting roles.

Violence

Threats of violence such as being burned, beaten, and shunned are everyday occurrences in Boy's world. As a hunchback, he's learned to cope with being scorned. Secundus hits a boy who bullies Boy. A girl holds a knife to Boy's throat. Boy is trapped in a tomb for a number of days.

Sex
Language

The word "hell" is used to describe the literal place. "Piss."

Consumerism

Greed is a theme. Monks rake in coins from pilgrims. Secundus lies and steals for his own reward.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Wine and ale are consumed by adults.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Catherine Gilbert Murdock's The Book of Boy is a historical fantasy set in medieval France that deals with religious themes and prejudices of that time. Relics -- body parts and effects of saints -- and their whereabouts drive the plot of the story. The tween protagonist called Boy undergoes a mystical transformation that surprises him and puts him at risk. As a hunchback, he faces daily humiliation and bullying. Threats of violence such as being burned, beaten, and shunned are everyday occurrences in Boy's world. Redemption, heaven and hell, greed and sacrifice are themes.

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What's the story?

In THE BOOK OF BOY, a hunchback and a pilgrim journey through France and Italy to collect mystical treasures. The year is 1350. Boy, the tween protagonist, is a sheepherder who has a special way with animals. He understands them, and they him, and this gift helps him in times of danger -- which, because of his misshapen body, Boy is no stranger to. Placed into service under a mysterious, well-educated man, Boy carries a valuable pack as they travel from holy site to holy site in search of relics. Secundus, Boy's scheming master, crosses items off of a list in order to solve a mystical conundrum. During the journey, Boy discovers something about himself that horrifies and fascinates him. He struggles with the notion of carrying out morally questionable tasks and with being at peace with who he really is. 

Is it any good?

The sounds, smells, and voices of medieval France come to life in this beautifully crafted tale. Be forewarned that the setting and the language are somewhat lofty, with lots of instances of "'twould" and "'twas" in the text. There's enough fantasy and magic in The Book of Boy to engage readers looking to slip into another realm, but enough reality to give kids an idea of medieval European life. Did people of 14th-century Europe really worship dried body parts? 

Author Catherine Gilbert Murdock's characters are not all good or all bad. For example, Boy possesses the innocence of a country shepherd, but he has the ambition of a self-serving world traveler. Shadowy Secundus is a man out of time, whose mysterious wisdom drives the journey. There's much more going on behind the scenes than the reader is given access to, but that's one of the things that makes the book successful. One question remains: Where are the females? The saints are male, the monks and priests are male, the protagonists and villains are male. In the wings are women who care, serve, criticize, terrify, or are lost to disease, like the plague. Otherwise, The Book of Boy is an entertaining, surprising, thought-provoking peek into the pockmarked past.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how religion is portrayed in The Book of Boy. How is it portrayed in our everyday media? How does it make you feel to read or see views of religion or beliefs that are different from your own?

  • Bullying is prevalent in Boy's era. People spit at him and blame him for bad things. How does Boy cope with being bullied? What would you do differently if you were him? How would he be treated in our time?

  • Secundus is a complex man -- cruel, ambitious, and willing to do anything to get what he wants, but he also shows kindness and care. Can you think of other complex characters in books or movies? Is it easier to think of people as all good or all bad? Is that realistic? Why or why not?

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