by Peet, Mal; Rosoff, Meg (CON)

Orphaned as a child and sent to live among religious caretakers in early 20th-century Canada, 15-year-old Beck endures harsh labor and searches for love while traveling back and forth across the American border during the height of the Great Depression.

Mal Peet (1947–2015) was a critically acclaimed and award-winning writer. Besides his young-adult fiction, he wrote several illustrated books for younger children with his wife, Elspeth Graham.

Meg Rosoff is the author of How I Live Now, winner of the Michael L. Printz Award. She also received the Carnegie Medal and the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award and was named a National Book Award Finalist. Meg Rosoff completed Mal Peet’s unfinished novel, a promise she made him before he died. She lives in London.

After a traumatic childhood spent in orphanages, Beck, born in Liverpool to a poor British mother and an African sailor, has learned to stay quiet, preferring a solitary life on the road, safe from the vulnerability of love. Peet's posthumous novel, completed by Rosoff, follows Beck from his meager beginnings in early twentieth-century England to his harrowing first days in Canada to his peripatetic path leading him ultimately to Grace, a half Siksika woman reinvigorating her Native community in Alberta. While this often reads like a series of loosely linked vignettes rather than a complete, unified narrative, there are flashes of arresting lyricism: "Little flames, quick as lizards, ran up its black and riven trunk." At the same time, that language can be unsparingly frank: Peet and Rosoff do not sanitize racial slurs, and the description of Beck's sexual abuse at the hands of a gang of priests is graphic. However, older teens and adults who appreciate literary historical fiction might find plenty to appreciate in this story of a hard-won discovery of redemption and home. Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.

Beck escapes institutional violence and discrimination and mends his spirit through lonely travels across the 1920s Canadian prairie.Biracial (black/white) Liverpudlian Beck is ushered into institutional orphanage care at age 11, eventually ending up at the Christian Brotherhood charity home in Montreal. The Brothers' intense involvement in the new boys' hygiene immediately raises red flags about sexual abuse, and when the white men nickname Beck Chocolat, horrified readers will understand that Beck's victimhood is nearly assured. This dread heightens the brutality of his final night in the orphanage, imprinting itself on Beck's and readers' psyches alike. The next morning Beck is sent off to become free labor for a racist, white, rural agricultural family. Anger and cynicism fuel Beck's escape, and he aimlessly wanders, barely surviving. Life improves when a sympathetic black couple living near Detroit essentially adopts Beck, now 16, until the trio's involvement in smugglin g results in tragedy. Vowing to avoid further emotional entanglement, Beck sets out on foot across the Canadian prairie, heading west. But fetching up on half-Scottish, half-Siksika Grace McAllister's land offers different opportunities, if Beck is willing to accept them. With Rosoff working from an unfinished manuscript left behind when Peet died in 2015, the finished book is seamless. Characters' dialogue is often rendered in earthy regional dialects, while the narrative prose is brilliantly evocative and precise, producing a sweepingly epic physical and emotional journey. Heartbreaking, hopeful, and inspired. (Historical fiction. 14-adult) Copyright Kirkus 2017 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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