The Book of Boy is a fresh and unexpected pilgrim tale in which nothing is quite as it seems. This is the type of skilful narrative where you start reading the story feeling realms apart from its setting and finish the book feeling emotionally absorbed into its world.
The year is 1350 and in medieval France this is a special year of holy pilgrimage. With Europe freshly recovering from years of devastating plague and violent wars, death was everywhere and many people looked to religion or superstition to find certainty of a welcome in paradise in the next life. Pilgrimage, relics, holy places, monetary “donations” and prayers to the saints were all high up on the list of means by which people tried to guarantee a pardon for sins and entry to the spiritual afterlife.
In the same year, we join a young goatsherd called Boy who understands how it feels to be different from everyone else. As a hunchback, Boy is used to being bullied by children and adults in the household he serves. Boy’s world changes when a strange pilgrim called Secundus requests that Boy accompany him on a pilgrimage across Europe. Secundus is engaged in a quest to find a list of particular relics of St Peter and, believing that finding them all will save his soul, will go to any length to recover them.
During the quest, Boy begins to uncover secrets about himself and his own unusual body shape. Boy’s story of identity and self-acceptance is beautifully touching and unexpected. While the historical setting is interesting and fairly unusual for a children’s book, what makes this narrative so transfixing is the unravelling of Boy’s mystery origins as he undertakes his own journey of discerning who he is and who he wants to be.
The Book of Boy is an absorbing read with a fascinating setting and moving narrative, mixing elements of fantasy with historical fiction. With relatable themes of identity, self-acceptance and the deceptiveness of appearances. I highly recommend this to readers in KS2 who are looking for something a little bit different to read.
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