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Heavy Medal Finalist: THE BOOK OF BOY by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Book of Boy

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.

 

 

 

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Roxanne Hsu Feldman 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 roxannefeldman@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. We invite readers and HMAC members to share their appreciation of this book.

  2. To me, it was distinguished because the setting, the quest, and the writing all came together to create a sensitive, funny, joyful adventure that was unlike anything else this year. And of course, who can forget the main character! When the reveal happened, I thought, “I have never read a book like this.” I loved it so much that I almost have trouble talking specifically about it, but I did want to help get started.

    • Yes! My thought the whole time was that it was unlike any book I’d read before. It pulls you in and invites you to read more without the feeling of being rushed through a plot. The pace at which it takes you along is similar to the pace of their journey together.

    • Amanda Snow says:

      I agree with this. The reveal was worth the read alone. I would love to see this read aloud, as I think the writing style and plot flow would pair well with a group.

  3. Deborah Ford says:

    I agree, Kari. The “reveal” is astonishing. It’s also difficult to prevent spoilers in a discussion as well. I talk about this book in my Best Books of 2018 seminar, so it’s always a dance…

  4. Three things stand out to me as distinguished about THE BOOK OF BOY: 1) Story 2) Setting, and 3) Characters.

    This was a wholly original story. It felt like a blending of The Inquisitor’s Tale and The Thief and Mission: Impossible! There’s no real suitable comparison this year that I can see (which by process of elimination makes this distinguished then, right?) The action was well detailed and the stakes were believable within the setting. The story was told in a careful way, dropping hints to the reader early about the true nature of Boy but not so much to give anything away fully. The action, and humor, and emotion all made for a really thrilling read.

    I think the setting may be quietly the most distinguished thing about this book. It was fully realized to me through period details and characters dialogue and actions. Don’t have the book on hand to quote examples, but it wouldn’t be hard to find some if I did!

    I also really enjoyed the relationship Secondus and Boy developed over the course of the book. It’s complicated in that they are very different yet they need each other and their growth and change over the course of the book was well delineated.

    • sarahbtlibrarian says:

      Agreed Mr. H! The characters and setting are some of the strongest elements of this book. The growth of both Boy and Secondus are so well done. I started out really disliking Secondus but grew to see who he was as he grew, just as Boy does.

      The setting is also very strong and the reader gets a real sense of the time and place and what Boy’s journey is like.

      And the reveal! To me, that big reveal and twist is what makes this one stand out. We’ve had another book with a twist (Assassination of Brangwain Spurge) but I think the twist in this one is done even better. It doesn’t feel out of place and it flows so well with the story it was almost magic when it happens.

    • Courtney Hague says:

      Well said, Mr. H. I agree that the setting is really outstanding in this one. There is no real attempt to sugarcoat Europe in the 1300s from descriptions of Rome in ruins to the crowds of pilgrims to even the unpleasant scents. I also agree with your comparison to The Inquisitor’s Tale, I kept thinking that as I read this book.

    • I think there are a few comparisons we can safely make, Jordan. BOOK OF BOY is what I call a “journey narrative” (maybe this is also the technical term), where a character experiences a physical journey that acts as a catalyst for an emotional or intellectual journey. In my mind, it’s companions in this year’s crop are THE NIGHT DIARY and JOURNEY OF LITTLE CHARLIE (and, perhaps to a lesser extent, BRANGWAIN).

      I agree entirely that the setting is masterfully constructed. There are only a handful of books that take place in a medieval setting that are as stirring as BOOK OF BOY. The characters are also richly drawn, and I believe Secundus in particular is strongly developed: from his scent (I swear I could smell him as I read) to his tenacity and his evolving feelings for Boy, I think he’s probably the most distinctive side character outside of Cap’n Buck.

      I marvel at how Murdock handles the plot points. Even after it’s revealed that Boy is an angel – which happens about halfway through the book – she still manages to wring enough tension out of the plot to keep the pages turning. Books usually have a single climax, but I feel that BOY had two: the reveal of who Boy is *and* the culmination of the journey.

      I called this book a dark horse in discussions that took place earlier on this blog. I stand by it. I think a committee (including us) could easily build consensus around it.

      • You know Joe, when I made that comment, I was strictly thinking about the fantastical, medieval setting and after posting, immediately thought of BRANGWAIN! I suppose the two of these could be paired nicely together and would maybe even split or cancel out votes around the table. A one or the other kind of thing…

        The journey element is good. Thanks for bringing it up. Once we start discussing LITTLE CHARLIE we’ll have to remember that because now that you mention it, I too see a lot of similarities.

      • Leonard Kim says:

        I agree that BRANGWAIN and BOY may be particularly worth comparing point-by-point. Jordan, you had brought up in the past the fact that despite his revealed nature, Boy’s fate and purpose are left essentially unexplained at the end of the book. I wonder how your and others’ reaction to that compare with the reaction to the comparably unexplained skin-shedding at the end of BRANGWAIN.

        In addition to the “journey” plot Joe mentions, one could also compare the treatment of the books’ “odd couple” relationships (Brangwain/Werfel; Boy/Secundus). It seems to me that BRANGWAIN and BOY have comparable strengths (uniqueness, theme, setting, character development). Personally I think BOY does well everything BRANGWAIN does, but doesn’t have its “other components” issue and is also, to me, more beautifully written. Just saying.

      • Leonard, I’ve come to terms with the ending in BOOK OF BOY thanks in large part to comments by Destinee Sutton on Goodreads. Where at first I was confused, I think I’ve now decided that I appreciate the ending much more. I like that Boy’s purpose on earth will be to work. I was looking for something bigger on first read but now think it’s rather fitting.

        Honestly, I have a bigger problem with BRANGWAIN’s ending the deeper I dive into it. Whereas at first I loved it and found it clever.

      • I agree with Mr. H! At first I was more comfortable with the ending of BRANGWAIN but after thinking about it more, I found it confusing. And at first I was confused by the ending of THE BOOK OF BOY but it has grown on me – I appreciate the return to home as a changed character more than I did right away.

      • Jordan, could you recap Destinee’s arguments for those of us who haven’t see them? The ending is still the one slightly weak piece for me. Having his mission be to be kind and helpful in small, everyday ways would be fine if he was a different character who’d started out wanting glory or something. But that was what he was already doing at the beginning of the book, so it’s not really a change. I don’t mind him going home again, but I wish there was a little bit more to his mission, preferably something directly connected to him being an angel, since that’s his big piece of self-discovery. I suppose one change is he won’t be scared of Cook, etc., anymore, because of his interactions with the cranky woman who turns out to be stressed/unhappy/etc., but that really comes from his time after he starts his mission, not from his transformation into his true self or from the epic journey overall.

    • Mary Zdrojewski says:

      Regarding the setting, it seems like many fantasy books set in medieval times romanticize the setting, and I loved that this setting felt dirty and smelly and real.
      The characters, too, felt dirty and smelly and real. I could just feel the grease on my hands when the Boy touched his back.

  5. On a side note, well done by Cherylynn and Deborah on their book introductions! I’m getting really nervous now to write mine!

    • Deborah Ford says:

      Thanks! For me, the difficulty in writing was preventing spoilers! It’s amazing that we can talk about the distinguished-ness of it without doing so.

      • Am I incorrect in thinking that we should be able to write about spoilers? After all, we’ve all read the books! I know there’s been warnings in the past that any book posted about in Heavy Medal may have spoilers… maybe Steve and Roxanne can chime in?

      • I’m curious about this, too! Do we need to avoid spoilers in the introductions? And are they okay in the discussions? Thank you for clarifying!

      • I’m pro-spoiler here. In the Newbery committee, certainly they all talk about the book as if everyone in the discussion has read it. So I think we should too.

  6. I agree with everyone. I just loved this book so much. It’s excellent in every area–sentence level writing, setting, characters, plotting, historical detail, etc. And it’s so well-structured! There are clear turning points and it gets right into the action. I often find journey stories boring because I’m just waiting to get to the place, but this one was so exciting because each leg had its own adventure and there was so much going on with the relationship between the characters and internal character development for Boy. Action-packed plus a lot of depth.

    You can see all of these things in just the first 10 or 15 pages. Right away we get a sense of the place and time, with biblical allusions, a mention of wearing goatskin, and a light touch of period language, such as milord. (Throughout she does a good job of making the language feel of the era, but subtly, so it’s still very accessible.) In that first chapter, we instantly get a good sense of Boy–his kindness, goodness, and torments and fears. We instantly dislike Secundus for the same reasons Boy does and then both he and we have that complicated right away when he stands up to the bully, and by the way he does it, by appealing to honor rather than just force. I agree with everyone that the characters–both individually and their relationship–are one of the biggest strengths of the book. I was particularly impressed by how she managed to make Boy so intrinsically good but still relatable and not at all annoying or sappy.

    It seemed really well-researched. So much interesting historical detail, particularly the picture of dystopian Rome. And the ways the animals speak also felt natural and research-based. (I mean, you know what I mean!)

  7. Spoilers away, everyone. We cannot discuss each book fully if we have to hide any pieces of information. HMAC members already know all the details and HM general readers will have to be content with the fact that we will discuss and reveal plot and character details.

  8. I feel like I should contribute more than just a “Yes! I agree!” but others have already said much of what I admired about the book. I agree that the setting is very well done, and the layers of the characters was excellent. We may or may not “like” Secundus, but we certainly come to understand him. He’s complicated in all the best ways.

    I’m not sure I agree that it’s completely original and wholly new, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It doesn’t have to be “new” to be “fresh” The flow of the story felt familiar to me, which I think is important in a book where other aspects, such as the setting, will be very unfamiliar to many readers. (Or maybe my life-long interest in this time period helped to make the story feel familiar, which could also be the case.)

  9. Agree with people’s praises. I found this to be the most beautifully written one of the lot. Murdock packs so much in to each well-crafted paragraph.
    In the following section from page 20:
    “We came to the field of Michel the plowman. After pestilence took his son, Michel gave me his son’s boots, which were the boots I wore now, stuffed with wool so they fit me, and his son’s hose that I held up with string, and his red hood so my head should never be cold. Then Michel left because the manor held naught for him, and now his field was empty”.
    Besides being lovely writing, this bit shows us how the pestilence affected the people of the manor (sadness, people moving on, empty fields) and that Boy has depended on kindnesses of the manor inhabitants (his boots, hose AND hood all belonged to the dead boy) and that his boots and hose are ill-fitting (led me to imagine going on a long trek with boots that are too big–ouch!). Powerful, distinguished writing. I feel like I could open to any page of this book and find gold there.

    • I agree! Plus you get so much world building in just that sentence—the clothes give you such a sense of the historical period without being overly described. (And the mentions of a plowman, manor, and pestilence all set the period too, of course.)

  10. I’m going to agree that the setting drips with period stimuli. I was also stunned by the reveal of the secret of the hump. Well placed and not expected at all.I agree with whomever pointed out that there is shortage of readable books about this era.

    Here’s a confession. I listened to this – twice. The first time my mind wandered so much I couldn’t tell you what it was about. I came back to it a few months later, when my brain was less occupied and enjoyed it very much. I know the actual committee is not allowed to evaluate books from their audio and I understand why. While there is nothing wrong with this audio. I think it was done very well, I don’t think I absorbed the beauty of the writing everyone is touting. For me, I need to appreciate that type of thing in print. Even on my second time through I kept losing focus and had to replay parts of it again.

    One concern I had, if we are allowed to voice those yet, is how well explained the relic hunting/selling/worshiping was to a reader with no previous knowledge of this as a thing that was prevalent in the middle-ages. Would a young reader have the foundation to understand why the parts of dead men were being bandied about like currency?

    • Mary Zdrojewski says:

      That’s a good point about the relics and something that hadn’t even crossed my mind. I grew up in a strongly Catholic household (and I stayed that way), so relics are a part of every day life to me. It hadn’t occurred to me until I read your comment that there are people who don’t understand the concept.
      Has anyone talked with a young reader about this and can offer more insight?

    • I think there are mentions of them having power, but even if a reader didn’t understand the significance in the greater culture, they would still understand why they were important to these characters in this story. And they still work as MacGuffins, just something to quest after, even if you don’t know why.

      • Courtney Hague says:

        I agree. I think that it adds a layer of depth to the story to have the knowledge of the importance of the relics but I don’t think it’s completely necessary. For a child reader, or any reader who doesn’t have prior knowledge of relics, the idea that you would want to collect parts of a dead man to return to his tomb honestly makes sense as a quest.

    • Granted, I’m 30+ years older than the intended readers of this book, but… I was raised in a non-religious household (as a child, I thought Jesus was essentially Santa Claus), and I still have little working knowledge of most world religions. The relics weren’t terribly difficult for me to pick up on. I wonder if children who don’t have entries into Catholicism will parallel the relics to, say, those things Harry Potter was looking for in the 7th HP book. I can’t remember what they’re called, and my first cup of coffee hasn’t kicked in.

      Note to self: maybe don’t participate until brain has booted up for the day.

      HORCRUXES!! Got it right before I hit send, but keeping my dumb musings for posterity’s sake because I probably would’ve rambled the same thing in person.

      • Thanks, sometimes when you have knowledge about a thing it can be hard to be objective how well that thing is explained to a novice. I like Katrina’s MacGuffin analogy and Joe’s Horcruxes. I meet with my Newbery students later today. I think I will check with those whom have read this book and see where they stand.

  11. Sorry for not putting this in earlier — any concerns or flaws to be put forth for examination now?
    Also — we’re not going to be really strict about this: but on the Newbery or other award committees, even if you have listened to the book, the final discussion really needs to be based on the reading experience, without the added influence of the reader’s talent or production value.

  12. I truly loved this book but in the interest of encouraging a full discussion: I’m curious about the presentation of a “disability” that turns out not to be one. Does that raise any red flags as far as a theme that should be avoided, or cause the book to be less distinguished? When I started reading it, I noticed the subject headings classified it as a book about a person with a disability, but that’s not exactly the case (and I know the author is not responsible for the subject headings but it is certainly one way to frame the first half of the book). I can see it as a lovely twist that the “disability” is actually something miraculous but I don’t want to be ableist in my views. Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Am I overthinking it? (Very possible.) I think I would change the subject heading at the very least.

    • I see where you’re coming from, Kari, but I interpreted it as disabilities actually being abilities – and sometimes we ourselves don’t recognize them immediately. I found it to be empowering, though I can see how some may not see it as such. It definitely depends on the reader and their life experiences.

      I agree, too, that the subject heading is misleading.Having now read the book, I may consider revisiting how I’ve cataloged it.

      • Good thoughts! It’s something I have been curious about since I read it so I thought it might be worth bringing up. But I admit I was influenced by the subject heading into thinking the book is something that it’s not exactly!

    • My major concerns with this book are that it’s kind of ableist. Most disability activists and advocates I know are not fond of the “disability that gets magically cured/disability that is inspiring/disability that is actually a special ability” genre. It erases the lived reality of folks with those disabilities, and makes it seem like they are something to be cured. Also, many disability activists see the reality of their disability as an important part of their identity, and the “it’s actually an ability!” narrative as deeply problematic.

      I’m not disabled, but, I would argue that books that do harm to children with disabilities, or to any marginalized group, may be less distinguished. I think it’s worth thinking about, in this case, although in other ways I found the book incredibly well written.

      • Are we asking if it was insensitive of the author to conceal their twist in a masked disability (Boy’s hunchback?) I hadn’t thought of it before Kari brought it up but maybe it’s something to consider.

      • Well, I am disabled and although I did think about that briefly, in the end it didn’t bother me. Given that he’s not actually disabled and so doesn’t get healed, if we blame it for slightly resembling other stories that may or may not be problematic, I think that’s taking it a bit far. It just shouldn’t be tagged as a book about disability, since it’s not.

  13. Cherylynn5691 says:

    I loved the medieval setting. The descriptions of the life in the time period that I have read so much about were done well. The plot of a quest with the steps of looking for and obtaining each relic made the plot very logical and set out. I admit my problem is still with the reveal. I think the story impressed me until the angel appeared. I felt like there were stories he told at the beginning of how Father Petre treated him that does not seem to me to be the way a priest would treat an angel. He hit him to make him learn a lesson. (p. 5) It seemed more in keeping with the hunchback that he seemed to be. There were hints along the way of where this could end up, but I have to admit an angel who not only hides who he is but doesn’t understand seemed very strange to me.

    • But the whole reason he hits him is because he’s an angel–he thinks the only way to keep him safe is for no one to find out, even Boy himself. The lesson you mention is to “never reveal yourself.” So he’s giving him rules to protect himself with–and reinforcing them with hitting. Which, I mean, not awesome child-rearing, obviously, but of the time-period. And rereading that part knowing that he is an angel helps make sense of why Father Petrus, who Boy says was kind, was hitting him (which wasn’t compatible with him hitting him because he was a hunchback.)

      • Cherylynn5691 says:

        Hunchbacks were mistreated. It seemed to me to be appropriate for the time period. I guess my protest is that when the boy became an angel suddenly we went from having a historical fiction book with a disabled character to having a kind of unrealistic or magical story. I guess I want a different book than the author wrote, because I was enjoying it as historical fiction and felt cheated out of a good beginning when suddenly an angel is introduced.

    • For what it’s worth, one of my students was very uncomfortable that Boy ended up being an Angel. I think for religious reasons I couldn’t quite fathom. (She was also thrown that a character in CHECKED was named Jesus.) She thought it changed the nature of the book and would have liked it if “It weren’t so religious.”

      • Cherylynn5691 says:

        I think that is part of my problem. My understanding of what an angel is from the bible does not fit this character. An angel is sent by God with a mission. This creature does not even know it is an angel until it sees something the humans identify as an angel and thinks it looks like that.

  14. Melody Allen says:

    I found the ending appropriate and within the conventions of the hero’s quest. Secundus learned to love and be caring thus earning a place in heaven. Boy got his boon of learning and accepting who he really is. Like Bilbo and other hero’s quest characters, Boy returns home and is more comfortable with himself and his place in the world. All valid themes for young people. Beautifully constructed and written book.

  15. This is by far one of my five favorite books this year. Distinguished in character development, plot, and theme this book is one of the most beautifully written books this year. I have very little time until Wednesday, to comment more on the books being discussed— but the first three are all in my top five. It will be fun to see if I am persuaded to change my mind concerning some of the upcoming titles.

  16. Jessica Lee says:

    This is a lovely book. But as I was reading I found myself thinking, “What child would I recommend this to?” One of the Newbery criteria is “respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations.” Does Murdock give enough information for children to truly understand the book? I think she did a masterful job recreating the period and setting and conveying that to young readers. But the concept of relics was central to the story and not clearly explained beyond being the object of the quest.

    • I think any kid that likes an adventure would enjoy it. I don’t think you have to understand anything about relics, other than that these characters need them, to understand and enjoy the quest. Is there something more you think the readers need to understand about them for the purposes of the book?

      • Jessica Lee says:

        If the object of a quest can be any object, then it is just a MacGuffin, an element of sloppy writing. I assume that Murdock chose relics because she thought they were interesting or at least relevant. I wish the cultural context of relics had been described as well as the impact of the plague was.

      • I don’t think MacGuffins are sloppy writing—they’re just a plot element. From the reader’s perspective, the item could be anything, but for the characters. They need these particular things and I think it does a good job explaining why they need them and what the significance is to these characters. I feel like it did cover what relics meant in general to some extent, but maybe not. But I wouldn’t have wanted her to get bogged down in explaining that too much because that’s not really central to what the book is doing. I feel like it’s plenty for the purposes of this story and if readers are curious to learn more, that can inspire them to find other books on the subject. I guess I feel like your complaint is more of an educational concern than a
        literary one. But I do agree that she did a good job showing the impact of the plague!

  17. Ugh, need an edit button! I think that was supposed to be “but not for the characters.” Or something! :)

  18. Reading through comments from the HMAC members, it seems that the discussion is centered more on the readers’ expectations and interpretations of various factors: what constitutes as disability (and whether Boy has one,) what constitute an Angel (and whether Boy could be one,) whether the book should remain a “historical fiction” or bridge over to Fantasy, etc.

    My question is — are these considerations addressing the Newbery criteria of delineation of characters, plot, style, themes? Because, to me, Murdock delivers successfully with distinction in style — her sentence level writing is full of wit, subversive observations, and compassion; in character development — readers definitely “see” both Boy and Secundus clearly and get to know them better and deeper as the plot progresses; in plot development — the urgency and intensity of the actions and desires are heightened notch by notch as we journey along with Boy; and in presentation of theme — Murdock is not delivering a religious sermon, rather, an action-packed, magical tale about self-realization and aspiration, and a coming of age story with compassion and gaining awareness.

    As a Committee, how would we reconcile the wants/hopes/expectations as readers and the objective observations and evaluations of the book as a (slightly detached) critic? And should we strive for it?

  19. I’ve just finished rereading it and a few things stood out this time.

    1. Relics. I paid attention to the relics this time because of our discussions and there is actually a *ton* of information about them. We learn that they can be various things related to saints (body parts, pieces of a boat, a shoe, etc.). We learn you can own them (the fine lady in the marketplace) or visit them in church and that they are supposed to bring you blessings, particularly healing (the old man being carried by his son, and of course Boy’s whole goal is to be healed). And we hear several legends about them. So I really can’t think of what else she could have included! If you’d never heard of saints, heaven, or hell, you would probably be a bit confused, but you only need a very basic understanding of these and it seems hard to live in America without having at least heard the terms.

    2. Disability. Rereading, I remembered that I was annoyed when I thought Boy was going to be healed when they get to the first stop with the shoe, and then was glad that he wasn’t. Because that would have been annoying if he was only disabled for a couple chapters and then had to get healed to go on his adventure. But he’s not and he’s not even healed at the end, even though his whole goal is to be healed. But what he wants to be healed from is from being an angel. And it’s all about him learning to accept himself as he is, so that fits in well with any self-acceptance movement. Plus he has a matter of fact attitude towards his differences before he has accepted he’s an angel. Some people eat, he doesn’t. Some people talk to animals. Everyone’s different.

    3. Mystery. I was struck by how well-crafted it is. The first half is basically a mystery (two mysteries) and she plays fair with them. Like the solution to any good mystery, the revelation that Boy is an angel is both completely unexpected and completely obvious in retrospect. There are so many clues—and such good misdirection. There are red herrings (maybe he’s really a girl), there’s hiding in plain sight (the nun calling him an angel), and there are straight out clues, like the smell of chicken feathers when he takes his bath or the fact that he feels guilty about not telling Secundus he’s a monster. (You assume that’s just his bad self-esteem because of being a hunchback. But when you think about it, that doesn’t actually make sense because Secundus already knows he’s a hunchback, so he must be talking about something else.) So you have things like that that build until you think he’s hiding something, but you don’t know what. But there were so many clues that I missed!

    4. The ending. I liked the ending a lot more this time. I see now that really the point of the ending is that he learns he can be both things—boy and angel. He accepts his true self and integrates who he is and who he wants to be. He figures out how to be a “real boy” by helping people and just living as one, but also to fully embrace his angelness, summed up in finally taking flight. He sets out because he’s unhappy with himself and his life. He comes back at peace with himself and a new sense of purpose. Even if what he’s doing isn’t that different, the meaning he gives it is.

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