Authors: Mal Peet (& finished by Meg Rosoff)
Publisher: Walker Books
Genre: Teen/young adult fiction, Historical fiction
Book format: Paperback
Description: Born of a brief encounter between his mother and an African sailor on the streets of Liverpool in the 1900s, Beck lives a life that is defined by a longing to find his place in the world. Orphaned and shipped to Canada and the untender care of the Catholic Brothers, he finds little humanity as he journeys westwards. What will it take for Beck to finally find home?
*Free copy provided by publisher for review…
Review: ‘Beck’ is a YA historical fiction novel which unfortunately just didn’t hold my attention. Set, in the beginning, in Liverpool but mostly Canada in the early 1900s the story follows Beck, an orphaned mixed race boy who finds it hard to find a place he can call home. The first few pages are actually a backstory explaining how Beck came to be, how his parents met, but then the book really starts with Beck being taken to the orphanage and what happens there and beyond.
Although the start of the novel was a bit strange to me, focusing on Beck’s parents and their encounter, I did get into this, at first. It’s not long before the orphanage ships Beck along with other boys to Canada and this is where the real story starts. I won’t go into too much detail so I don’t spoil it for anyone but this part of the book for me was the best. What happens to Beck while staying with the Christian Brothers is very dark but also very compelling. Although I could guess at the start that Beck would face these sorts of problems, it’s what actually happens and the way things are described that kept my attention throughout this section of the book. I did think that this story would continue especially after a particular brutal incident, however this part of the novel just ends with another section starting in a different location completely.
The book has four parts and each part is a separate section of Beck’s life. Usually I don’t mind a story moving along a few months or even years like this, but each part is almost like a separate short story/novella with little reference to what happened previously and although we sometimes see Beck remembering something, there’s never a deep look at how affected he is by the events of his past. In fact the whole novel took on this distant feel to it that I didn’t like and it makes me question whether it’s a YA novel at all. For me YA means you get to know the characters and what they are thinking but Beck is a very closed character. We see what he’s doing but we rarely really get inside his head. It also didn’t help that each time a new part started there is a backstory of the other characters that Beck has just met. The back story of the last two parts had so much information about characters Bone and then Grace that it made me lose interest entirely as I really wanted to continue Beck’s story but had to wade through many pages of other people’s back story first. While the backstory was interesting and helped in understanding the next part I wish it had been explained in a better way, in bits, like most books do.
This novel has some use of the s and f swear words with the f word having multiple spellings due to the dialogue being written as you hear it, with accents such as: “An’ yer don’ wanna go down there. Tha’s right, ennit”, which I often don’t enjoy reading in books especially modern ones as it slows down my reading. The whole book is dark with violence and abuse which can be hard to read. Because of this I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone but a mature teen and older.
While the whole book had a lot of potential I just didn’t enjoy reading this. The ending is a good and satisfying one but with no real resolution to what happened at the beginning. I liked parts of the story and each part on its own would have made an interesting story but together this whole book just doesn’t work for me and it’s a shame because I really thought it would get deeper into the mind of Beck and the effects of what happened to him. Some parts of the book read differently too, with parts of the descriptions bordering on too flowery and other parts not. but maybe this is due to the fact that Mal Peet, the author, died before finishing this novel and some of the text was written and finished off by Meg Rosoff. I don’t know if this had any effect on the overall plot (as it’s explained that she did write quite a bit of the last part and it wasn’t just from his notes but her own creative ideas too) but this book just didn’t appeal to me, despite numerous good review for it, and I won’t be reading it again.
-Review first appeared online July 2017 – now republished here.
Have you read this or any other books by the author? Do you like reading books which tackle difficult subjects like abuse or racial issues? Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂