Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Review: Beetle Boy, by Margaret Willey

Beetle Boy

When he was seven, Charlie Porter never intended to become the world's youngest published author. He just wanted his father to stop crying. So he told him a story about a talking beetle—a dumb little story his mother made up to make him feel better. (That was before she left and feeling "better" became impossible.) But Charlie's story not only made his father stop crying. It made him start planning. The story became a book, and then it became school events and book festivals, and a beetle costume, and a catchphrase—"I was born to write!"

Because of the story, Charlie stayed seven until he was ten. And then it all ended. Or it should have. Now Charlie is eighteen, and the beetles still haunt his dreams. The childhood he never really had is about to end . . . but there's still a chance to have a story of his own. Beetle Boy is a novel of a broken family, the long shadow of neglect, and the light of small kindnesses.

Last year, I reviewed Four Secrets, Willey's earlier YA novel. That one was told in several different voices, and Willey did a fantastic job of making them distinct individuals.

This one is completely from the perspective of the main character. And, what a story! Charlie is currently laid up at his girlfriend, Clara's apartment with a torn Achilles tendon. Clara is very sweet, but her background makes it impossible for her to believe she can't mend Charlie's fractured family relationships while he is waiting for his leg to heal. As the reader, we not only get the raw story of charlie's history, shown in well-placed flashbacks, but we are privy to his very Freudian beetle dreams. It is easy to become emotionally involved with Charlie as he works to come to some sort of terms with his past and his relationships. There is no nice, neat ending, but a sense of a life finally beginning, if that doesn't sound too hokey. 

No gifting suggestions, because this just isn't that kind of book (although we joked about a gift certificate for therapy sessions). Still a great book to give someone who likes character-driven novels, or meaty stories delivered gradually. 

A list of adjectives I just pulled from other Beetle Boy reviews: "wrenching", "riveting", "potent", "painful", "demanding", "riveting (again)",  "traumatic", "emotional", "powerful" get the picture! Obviously one which has had an effect on its readers already.

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