18th October, 2019
Review: The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (Greenwillow)
Boy has always been relegated to the outskirts of his small village. With a large hump on his back, a mysterious past, and a tendency to talk to animals, he is often mocked and abused by the other kids in his town. Until the arrival of a shadowy pilgrim named Secondus. Impressed with Boy’s climbing and jumping abilities, Secondus engages Boy as his servant, pulling him into an expedition across Europe to gather the seven precious relics of Saint Peter. Boy quickly realizes this journey is not an innocent one. They are stealing the relics, and gaining dangerous enemies in the process. But Boy is determined to see this pilgrimage through until the end—for what if St. Peter can make Boy’s hump go away?
This is how the publisher describes Murdock's novel of bravery and adventure. Set in Europe in the Middle Ages we follow Boy's quest for becoming a "normal boy" and Secundus' mission to gather seven holy relics.
For me, the story was, on the one hand, an enjoyable read, and I found Boy to be a genuinely endearing character that sticks with you. In fact, I believe that characterisation is indeed one of the strong points of the book. Murdock has truly done a wonderful job of making Boy a memorable protagonist. As a reader you immediately sympathise with him, even though he remains somewhat mysterious till the end of the book.
On the other hand, the quest element that is of course a very central motif in the story was a bit too formulaic for me. This experience might be very subjective and is possibly based on my academic background in literary studies, but I had the feeling like someone had essentially brushed a story over Joseph Campbell's idea of the monomyth.* This part of the story also felt very slow at times and I never truly found myself being pulled in.
Another aspect I stumbled across was the density of theological background. The Book of Boy is essentially historical fiction, mixed with a bit of fantasy but none of the Christian belief elements were truly explained, and I find that quite critical in a book for middle grade readers. There are some interesting heists and thefts happening in the story, and Boy and Secundus have to wriggle their way out of several close scrapes, but I imagine that this isn't enough for young readers who don't necessarily have a lot of background knowledge in Medieval theology. And I felt that you really needed that knowledge in order to appreciate the many layers of the story. And then the ending - well, that was a bit of a twist but not a true surprise after Murdock's many hints throughout the narrative.
All in all, a nice tale but nothing that blew me away. It's definitely geared more towards young adults than children, and even those will probably need some guidance/background info in order to fully enjoy the story.
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
(If anyone is interested in Campbell's theory, check out his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces).
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