Heavy Medal Finalist: THE BOOK OF BOY by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Like Pinocchio, Boy wants to be a real boy. If he can assist Secundus on his quest to collect seven relics of Saint Peter, Boy can receive his own miracle. What begins as a simple pilgrim’s quest, progresses as an ever-revealing journey as the pair travel across medieval France and into Rome (circa 1350). Along the way, Boy grapples with his conscience.
“Stealing is wicked, yes. But Secundus was trying to get to heaven. That was good—yes? Was it wicked to help a woman have a baby? Father Petrus would say no.” [pg 104]
In episodic increments, Murdock’s main character, a hunchbacked child, discovers a world unlike any he’s ever known. His innocence is chipped away as he observes a lame man walk again, only to discover that the relic shoe is fake. “You say words that sound true but confuse me. You said that relics burn you.” [pg 74] Boy revels in smiles and greetings instead of name calling, though he feels it’s a sin. However, instead of becoming jaded, Boy becomes only more inquisitive and accepting of his new life.
“Was it wicked to wish to be a boy instead of a monster?” [pg 104]
The reader is slowly immersed in the spiritual and physical journey of Boy, only to discover the medieval world has a bit of magic and fantasy mixed with the mystery. By the time you realize what’s happening, you’re completely hooked.
His partner, the mysterious, foul-smelling Secundus has a mystery of his own. Where did he get the brimstone-smelling key? Why does it work in every door? What’s his back story? Like Boy, Murdock slowly reveals his disappointments, guilt and the rationale for his passionate desire to reach Rome. Though Secundus is often harsh with Boy, readers can feel there’s more to his story. We want to like him. We don’t want the two to part ways. “And so I was a liar. A lying monster en route to Rome. Wicked me.” [pg 68]
As the story continues to unravel its mysteries, Murdock uses humor in Boy’s ability to speak with animals to break the tension. Every morning he wakes up buried beneath a pile of animals. And the hump. Always the hump. It itches. It feels better warmed underneath the parcel of relics. Secundus protects the boy, even as he grows afraid of him.
Murdock weaves a mystery about redemption and desire into a world that believed in scraps of wood, bone and dust. It’s a world where people have faith at face value. It’s full of heroic donkeys, darkened tombs and thieving monks. Boy and Secundus lead us on a journey much like our own—to be accepted as we are. To right our wrongs. To face the dark—even though the danger is great, the rewards are miracles in themselves.
Introduction by Deborah
Further discussion of the book will now take place in the comments below, from Heavy Medal Committee members as well as other readers. Again, we’ll start by highlighting positive aspects of the book, then open discussion up to concerns as questions later in the day. Readers are also welcome to continue discussion on yesterday’s featured title.
Filed under: Book Discussion
About Roxanne Hsu Feldman
Roxanne Hsu Feldman is the Middle School (4th to 8th grade) Librarian at the Dalton School in New York City. She served on the 2002 and 2013 Newbery Committees. Roxanne was also a member of 2008-2009 Notable Books for Children, 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults, and the 2017 Odyssey Award Committees. In 2016 Roxanne was one of the three judges for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. You can reach her at at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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