The Boy from the Basement
By Matt Berman,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Gripping tale handles abuse with a delicate hand.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
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.
Violence & Scariness
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.
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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.
Where to Read
Based on 3 parent reviews
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Perfect for Adults and teens above 16.
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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?
- Author: Susan Shaw
- Genre: Contemporary Fiction
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Dutton Children's Books
- Publication date: March 11, 2005
- Number of pages: 198
- Last updated: July 1, 2015
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