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The Boy from the Basement

Gripping tale handles abuse with a delicate hand.
Parents recommend

What parents need to know

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.

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Drinking, drugs, & smoking
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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. 

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.

Families can talk 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

Author:Susan Shaw
Genre:Contemporary Fiction
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Dutton Children's Books
Publication date:March 11, 2005
Number of pages:198

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Teen, 16 years old Written byKrAzIbuTtErFLieZ April 9, 2008


K..All I Have To Say Was This Book Is Absolutely Pointless..I Hated It..It's The Dumbest Book I've Ever Read. It Seemed Like It Was Going To Be Good At First, But It Really Has No Climax Or Whatever..It Was Just Dumb, If You Ask Me..And I Really Didnt Like It At All! Sorry To Say..I Wouldnt Reccomend It. Maybe It's Just Because I'm 14, But Personally I Thought This Book Was Stupid. -Much Love, Kids..Dont Read This Book..COMPLETE AND TOTAL WASTE OF TIME!!!
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 basement. His mother could not do anything about it either. Over time he lose's most of his simple education. well @ night he sneaks out of his hous to go urinate. then the door closed behind him and locked him out of the house. Then he ran to the street light. well over night someone found him on the street and they take him to the hospital then when he is all better he has to go live with Mrs. Harrigan because theauthorities found out about what his dad did. well now he has to learn all simple education and more. this is a sad but good story i say 12 and older.
Adult Written bySkyrider April 9, 2008

Intense. Hard to put down.