Beck was Mal Peet’s last novel. Following his death, Beck was trusted to good friend and follow author Meg Rosoff to complete. I’ve been lucky enough to hear them both speak, so I was definitely curious to see how this collaboration would fare.
The story follows Beck, a boy born under very difficult circumstances in Liverpool. Mixed race, illegitimate and orphaned in the time of the Depression, he is eventually shipped to Canada under the ‘care’ of the Catholic Brothers. Tasked to work on a farm for a cruel family, Beck escapes to search out a better life. A journey full of hardship, loss and horror, Beck struggles to find his place in the world. Then he meets Grace.
I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with so many issues. I lost count of the sheer amount of bloody awful things that happen to Beck and the people he meets along the way, especially considering the book is less than 300 pages long! Nothing prepared me for the chapters with the priests. Haunting. I’ve never read any books by Mal Peet before, but the language he uses and the way he sets scenes, makes me think that I really should.
Reading reviews about this book, there is definitely a common theme; the suitability for a YA/ Teen audience, particularly since it has been nominated for a Carnegie award. As a coming of age novel (which it is) I think it is brilliant. Yes, countless horrible things happen to Beck, almost to the point of ridiculous at times. But it was of it’s time; the poverty, the racism, the history. Whether or not it is suitable for a younger teenage audience is definitely up for debate, but the subject matter is no worse than the assault of Alice (The stars at Oktober Bend) or the treatment of Subhi and his people (The bone sparrow). Just because books are difficult to read, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t read them.
Not my favourite so far, but an interesting read. I wonder how Mal would have ended the story if he had had the chance to finish it for himself.