Review of The Boy Lost in the Maze

The Boy Lost in the Maze The Boy Lost in the Maze
by Joseph Coelho; illus. by Kate Milner
Middle School, High School    Candlewick    320 pp.
3/24    9781536236415    $19.99
e-book ed.  9781536237351    $19.99

Coelho, the U.K.’s current Children’s Laureate, here interweaves two narratives—one a riff on the classical story of Theseus; the other of Theo, a contemporary biracial teen seeking his Black father. They are “two boys searching a maze of manhood,” as an introductory poem by “the Oracle” proclaims. In first-person, present-tense verse—free verse as well as rondels, sestinas, pantoums, and other tightly structured poetic forms—the story focuses on Theo’s visceral desire to know the father who long ago abandoned him and his mother. At the same time, for coursework, he pursues the project of telling Theseus’s story in a series of poems. Theseus’s labors as he travels to meet his father become the structure by which Theo envisions and interprets progress and setbacks, liars and swindlers, in his own quest. He has his own take on the tricksters and monsters Theseus slaughters, offering compassionate, complex readings that explore and contest ideas of masculinity and the monstrous. Coelho’s verse is expressive and arresting: his description of washing a contemporary Sciron’s feet is enough to curl your toenails. His mingling of contemporary urban features with the fantastic grotesqueries of the classical story creates a surreality that suits adolescent passions. Milner’s pen-and-ink illustrations throughout combine the statuesque, hieroglyphic, and superheroic in a parallel expression of the mythic nature of teen quests. An appended note gives background on the story of Theseus.

Pubissue-From the March/April 2024 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Deirdre Baker
Deirdre F. Baker
Deirdre F. Baker, a reviewer for The Horn Book Magazine and the Toronto Star, teaches children’s literature at the University of Toronto. The author of Becca at Sea (Groundwood), she is currently at work on a sequel—written in the past tense.

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