Book Review: Beck by Mal Peet & Meg Rosoff


4/5 Stars

An absolutely fascinating, yet harrowing coming of age story, made even more poignant as it is based on historical events that occurred in the early part of the 20th Century. Beck’s life was always going to be difficult. As a mixed race child  growing up in Liverpool, he was always going to face hardship and prejudice. After his mother’s death Beck along with other orphaned boys are sent to Canada, to a home run by the Catholic Brothers. It soon becomes clear that this was not an exciting opportunity for an improved new life in a new country but an unfathomable nightmare.

The scenes with the Catholic Brothers are difficult to read, we see just how these boys are groomed by the predatory priests.The author(s) suitably mediates these scenes for his teen-aged readers and I also was glad to be spared. He selects the details of the grooming and the hypocritical language that led up to that bath and writes of the consequences suffered 

What happens is an extraordinary tale of a young boy trying to find belonging. Beck’s voice is quiet, but his spirit is symphonic. He experiences so much in such a short space of time it makes you wonder how it is possible that these experiences have not irreparably broken him. There is physical, emotional and sexual abuse. The abuse is not in any way graphic and is written in a way suitable for a teenage audience, but the fact that is is based on true historical events makes it difficult to read.

Beck’s character is open and honest. He has no real memory of what it is like to be cared for and how to care in return, or maybe the bad memories have replaced the good ones but he refuses to give up hope that he will find somewhere to belong. 

However, once Beck runs away from his ‘adoptive parents’ the story concentrates on his relationships and the kindness of strangers he meets along the way who help in getting him where he needs to be. A riveting read.