James Hanley's Boy was banned after it was published in 1931—for its obscenity. Perfect! And the perfect time to read it.
This is one I expected to like much more than I did. Begun as Banned Books Week approached and coupled with my own agitation by an ongoing Banned Reviews situation, I found this one lacking— in its ability to create any sort of compassion for its protagonist and/or to overcome my anxiety over what’s happening at a once highly valued review community where I was happy to participate.
A young boy, pulled out of school by parents who wanted him to work and contribute to their own well-being, when all he wanted was an education and the chance for a better life (in his case, a pair of shoes like his teacher’s) stows away on a merchant ship looking for an opportunity to succeed. The unwanted sexual advances of crewmates, the boy’s slavish treatment combined with an oppressive loneliness, and unfortunate experiences with an equally young, exotic hooker could have developed into something more than a mediocre adventure.
Hanley’s over-reliance on iteration undermines a protagonist, for whom, sympathy should develop but never does leaving the protagonist a petulant neff (Hanley’s word). Clumsy language and heavy naval jargon detract from a straightforward narrative, and a virtually hidden glossary (really) provides little help.