The Boy from the Basement

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
The Boy from the Basement Book Poster Image
Parents recommend
Gripping tale handles abuse with a delicate hand.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 6 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 9 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

The author deals delicately with a very dark and serious subject, but some sensitive children may find it too much to deal with; others will need some parental discussion.


Charlie's father shakes him violently and breaks his shoulder. Otherwise the violence is implied, not shown -- both Charlie and his mother have been beaten by his father.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this story paints a fairly vivid portrait of a 12-year-old boy who has been imprisoned in a basement and abused by his own father for several years. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 13-year-old Written byErabellah April 12, 2010
I am 13 and can read and watch a lot of things, but while there is no disturbing images like guts on the floor or descriptive open heart surgury, it was kind of... Continue reading
Adult Written bylovespell172010 January 5, 2010

Perfect for Adults and teens above 16.

I overall thought the book was a little boring. I also din't like how that in the book, The mother let her husband do these things! Thats not a good messag... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byshaeshaelovesdogs May 1, 2011

Spread the word about this book! Its so interesting! Kids at least over 10!

I love this book! It's a great book to learn about how some kids actually have to live. It is a very intelligent novel and it is great for all kids around... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bypaintballer.ian March 20, 2011

A tip on this book

I am 13 years old i really like this book it is about a boy who went outside even though his dad did not want him to go outside so the father locked him in the... Continue reading

What's the story?

Charlie has been kept a prisoner in his basement by his psychotic father. He has never been to school, never heard of holidays, never used a phone; he doesn't even know his last name. He believes he deserves all this because he is bad. He has to scavenge for food at night after his father is asleep, and run into the yard because he's not allowed to use the bathroom. He is twelve years old.

One night while running to the backyard he accidentally locks himself out of the house. Wandering into the street he collapses, and wakes up in a hospital. From there he is sent to a foster home where, with the help of a loving foster family and a psychologist, he begins to try to overcome the severe emotional trauma, and adjust to a world with which he is completely unfamiliar.

Is it any good?

This is a powerful -- and hopeful -- story. Child abuse, like slavery and genocide, is one of mankind's great horrors, and therefore hard to turn into literature without going too far. The balance between honoring the reality of the victim's experience without becoming unbearable is delicate, especially when writing for children, but author Susan Shaw gets it right. It's real (except perhaps for some overly fortuitous timing at the end) and moving without being melodramatic or graphic.

Unlike many other novels of this type, the author doesn't shortchange the lasting psychological impact of Charlie's experiences, nor does she demonize the parents: What they did was terrible, but the mother is passive out of terror, and the father is genuinely ill and, in his warped way, doing what he thinks is best. Charlie's recovery, the main theme of the story, is also realistically slow -- the book has to skip over years at the end to get him to a place where he is even beginning to function normally.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the grim realities of child abuse and why victims of abuse often remain silent. 

  • Why is Charlie reluctant at first to see the error of his father's ways? 

  • How has being shut in the basement for so many years affected his perception of the outside world? 

  • Does hearing Charlie's story give you any new appreciation for things you might have been taking for granted?

Book details

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