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The Boy from the Basement
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
- Parents say
- Kids say
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?