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Review of The Book of Boy

The Book of Boy
by Catherine Gilbert Murdock; illus. by Ian Schoenherr
Intermediate, Middle School    Greenwillow    278 pp.
2/18    978-0-06-268620-6    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-268622-0    $7.99

Secundus is a pilgrim. A child, known simply as Boy, is a goatherd. Together they travel, master and servant, from France to Rome in the Holy Year of 1350. Each is on a quest. Secundus is collecting six specific relics — bits of bone and teeth — to deposit in St. Peter’s tomb and thus earn his way into heaven. Boy wants St. Peter to cure him of the disfiguring hump on his back; to be a “regular boy.” Mysteries abound. How did Secundus come by a key that opens all locks, and why does he reek of brimstone? How can Boy communicate so well with animals, and why does he never eat? Murdock is in complete control of her medieval material. She evokes the bleak, plague-decimated villages of Europe, provides details of the seamy yet powerful trade in relics, and limns a world in which every aspect of life is steeped in religious belief. It is all fresh, immediate, and earthy: the fakery, the faith, the embedded stories, the escapades. The story is beautifully served by its presentation — generous page design, thick deckle-edged paper, and gorgeous woodcut-style illustrations that head each chapter. Most remarkable and unusual is the character of Boy, a complex and compelling being whose defining quality is goodness.

From the July/August 2018 Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: ALA Awards.

About Sarah Ellis

Sarah Ellis is a Vancouver-based writer and critic, recently retired from the faculty of The Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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