A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
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."
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
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 & Scariness
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.
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The word "hell" is used to describe the literal place. "Piss."
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Products & Purchases
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.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Catherine Gilbert Murdock's The Book of Boy was named a 2019 Newbery Honor Book. It's 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.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.