BooksforTopics Reading for Pleasure Recommendations
Book Title: The Book of Boy
Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Publisher: Chicken House
Publication Date: August 2018
Most Suitable For: Years 4-6
The Book of Boy is a fresh and unexpected pilgrim tale in which nothing is quite as it seems. Quickly immersed into the medieval setting as seen through the eyes of the
young protagonist ‘Boy’, I enjoyed this curious and emotional story so much that I read it in one sitting. 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. Boy knows nothing of his mother or father, only that he was discovered and taken in as a baby by kindly Father Petrus, who has since died of the Black Death. As a hunchback, Boy is used to being bullied by children and adults in the household he serves. He also finds that he is able to talk to animals and prefers the company of the goats in his herd to other people.
Boy’s world changes when a strange pilgrim called Secundus notices Boy’s climbing skills and requests that Boy accompany him on a pilgrimage across Europe. Boy’s job is to carry a mysterious pack containing the thumb of St Peter. Reluctant at first, Boy soon warms to his role when he realises the pack disguises his hump and makes him look like a “real boy”.
As Boy spends more time with Secundus, it becomes clear that the pilgrimage is somewhat unusual. 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.
Many thanks to the publisher for kindly sending me a review copy of this book.