Sometimes, award committees get it right—often they don’t. The Pulitzer committee may leave you puzzled; the Caldecott or Newbery committees do what they must to arrive at some sort of consensus (often the lack of consensus is apparent in the staggering number of Honor books they also award). With Boy A
, the 2004 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and the 2005 Waverton Good Read Award committees got it right.
Told with a relentless dread, the novel presents the story of a damaged youth (Boy A) as a steady, relentless pursuit to the inevitable. Readers are asked to identify with a protagonist whose past is defined by a horrible crime (his own), as well as the crimes committed against him by people who couldn’t know how they hurt him, didn’t care what effect their behavior might have on an already suffering youth, and those whose moral arrogance overrode any opportunity for compassion or understanding (some readers may feel the same way).
While not an overly optimistic book, or a fairy tale everything-will-be-alright story, Boy A
does leave readers—some readers—with the hope that those who can pick themselves up, those who do start all over again, will succeed in whatever capacity they can and with whatever strength hasn’t been crushed out of them.
What begins with rather hokey A to Z chapter headings (which, ultimately, make their own sense—think A to Zed, not A to Zee, Americans), through a fragmented text (like Boy A’s life), and with many British references and much British slang (http://www.urbandictionary.com/ will help), Boy A
is one to read, ponder, and pass on to others. Not for everyone, perhaps, but definitely worth the time.