Beetle Boy by Margaret Willey
Charlie Porter never expected to have a girlfriend who cared this much for him. Enough to bring him into her home after he had surgery on his Achilles tendon and care for him while he could not walk. But now Clara is starting to ask pointed questions about Charlie’s childhood and his family, questions that Charlie does not want to answer. Clara knows that Charlie was once billed as the world’s youngest author and sold story books about beetles. She also knows that he has nightmares every night that usually involve screaming. She doesn’t know though that Charlie’s dreams are filled with huge black beetles or that the books he sold were not really his own stories. She doesn’t know that his mother abandoned him, that his father forced him to sell books, that his brother hated him then and still does for abandoning him. She knows so little, but can Charlie open up and let her see the truth about him without her leaving him entirely?
Willey paints a tragic and painful look at a young man continuing to wrestle with the demons of his childhood. At 18-years-old, Charlie continues to dream about his past and to live as if it is his future as well. The book shows how difficult dysfunctional and neglectful childhoods can be to escape, even after one has physically left if behind. Willey manages to create a past for Charlie that does not become melodramatic. She makes it painful enough but not too dramatically so.
Charlie is a very interesting protagonist. He is not a hero, because he is too damaged to be called that. He is certainly a survivor, wrestling with things that will not let him go or let him progress. He is frightened, shy, and can’t see a future for himself. He is a tragic figure, one that readers will root for entirely, but also one that drips with anger, shame and sadness. One of the best parts of the novel is the end, which does not end neatly or give a clear path for Charlie. The ending has hope, but continues the complexity of the issues that Charlie faces. Perfectly done.
A brilliant and powerful look at neglect and abuse and the long shadow it casts over a life. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Carolrhoda Books and Netgalley.