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Review of Boy by Brett van Staalduinen

An ARC copy was provided by Netgalley and Dundurn Press in exchange for an honest review.  I’ve written the review as spoiler free as possible.

Boy is a story of immense tragedy that is powerful, intelligently and empathetically written with a determination and optimism despite the circumstances. 

The protagonist, Boy, is in his final year of school but the tragedies of the past and difficulties of the present mean that a talented student is struggling at school and his life is slowly unraveling during the story. 

His Sister, Charlie, died 8 years ago in a car accident whilst their Dad was driving (he survived) and appears as a ghost. His grades in school are falling. His mother is often absent leaving Boy to look after his baby brother. Furthermore he’s named after Boy George, the flamboyant 80’s pop star which no doubt generates a lot of questions and interest. 

The character of Mara, a pastor, lives in a secluded culvert by a lake. He has the ability to pause time and the pair strike up an unlikely friendship. This element of the story could have been developed further but I think the point the author is trying to make is that we all have grief, regret and tradegy in our lives but is drawing a distinction between the choices we make ourselves and those that are made by other people that lead to circumstances we find ourselves in. 

This is because despite the circumstances, Boy finds a way through. There’s a positivity, a determination to carry on. Whilst he doesn’t accept the help of his teachers or his friends as much as he should, he talks to Charlie a lot and this appears to be his coping mechanism although this does seep through into talking out loud at times. This is in stark contrast to the attitude and behaviour of Mara. 

The story covers a lot of issues and complex characters that are relatable even if some of them are not especially likeable. The author does this without straying into cliche and uses magical realism as a relatively minor element rather than a central theme which helps focus the story on the characters and situations and he achieves a good balance in this regard.