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Beck
     

Beck

by Mal Peet, Meg Rosoff
 

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From Carnegie Medal–winning author Mal Peet comes a sweeping coming-of-age adventure, both harrowing and life-affirming.

Born of a brief encounter between a Liverpool prostitute and an African soldier in 1907, Beck finds himself orphaned as a young boy and sent overseas to the Catholic Brothers in Canada. At age fifteen he is sent to work on a farm,

Overview

From Carnegie Medal–winning author Mal Peet comes a sweeping coming-of-age adventure, both harrowing and life-affirming.

Born of a brief encounter between a Liverpool prostitute and an African soldier in 1907, Beck finds himself orphaned as a young boy and sent overseas to the Catholic Brothers in Canada. At age fifteen he is sent to work on a farm, from which he eventually escapes. Finally in charge of his own destiny, Beck starts westward, crossing the border into America and back, all while the Great Depression rages on. What will it take for Beck to understand the agonies of his childhood and realize that love is possible?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 02/27/2017
A gritty and inspiring survival story, Peet’s final novel, completed by Rosoff after his death, has the stoic quality and soul of a Steinbeck tale. Set in the 1920s and early ’30s, it traces the saga of Beck, a British youth born out of a tryst between his destitute mother and a visiting sailor from West Africa. After Beck’s mother dies just before his 11th birthday, he is brought to a “dire and loveless” orphanage. From there, he is shipped to Canada, where he’s subjected to severe sexual abuse in an establishment run by the Christian Brotherhood, then sent to a farm where he is put in charge of livestock. Tired of being underfed and overworked, Beck runs off: his arduous travels coincide with an inner journey to understand where he fits in, and the kindnesses shown by bootleggers and an older woman of mixed Scottish and Siksika heritage lead him to draw conflicting conclusions about the world and its inhabitants. Harrowing but hopeful, it’s a memorable portrait of a boy struggling to love, be loved, and find his way against overwhelming odds. Ages 16–up. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
A gritty and inspiring survival story, Peet’s final novel, completed by Rosoff after his death, has the stoic quality and soul of a Steinbeck tale...Harrowing but hopeful, it’s a memorable portrait of a boy struggling to love, be loved, and find his way against overwhelming odds.
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

This final novel from the deceased Peet, completed by Rosoff, is a not-quite-YA, not-quite-adult historical fiction story of hardship after hardship...The book itself is incredibly ambitious, as was Rosoff’s task of finishing it. Beck is a passive character in his own life, but in the moments when he pushes himself to take action, readers will finally get some satisfaction. A heartbreaking, painful work that gives hope to the restorative power of true human connection.
—School Library Journal (starred review)

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.
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Whether a hardened heart can—or should—leave itself vulnerable to love is brilliantly explored in this powerful, vividly told, beautifully written collaboration.
—Shelf Awareness for Readers (starred review)

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...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.
—Booklist

This book tackles big issues: racism, sexual abuse by clergy members, poverty, and examines the effects of childhood trauma on developing adults. The plot is driven by Beck’s need for security and acceptance, and his traumatic past influences the brooding tone of the novel. A well-written work on a difficult topic, this book would be best introduced with a trigger warning.
—School Library Connection

Some of the harshest episodes of Beck’s life are captured in passages of stunning grace, typical of the late Peet’s writing.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Readers will feel Beck’s torture, both physical and emotional; they will experience his physical hardships but also rejoice when he discovers true love. Beck will be enjoyed by Peet’s fans, as well as lovers of historical fiction and adventure.
—VOYA

From the very first pages it’s clear we are in the hands of a master storyteller (or two; as explained in an appended note, Rosoff finished the novel after Peet’s death). The vibrancy, earthiness, and originality of the prose is startling; the spot-on dialogue adds to the immediacy; secondary characters are vividly portrayed. There are no wasted words; no too-lengthy descriptive passages, yet somehow we see, smell, experience everything.
—The Horn Book

Not since A Monster Calls, the novel Patrick Ness wrote based on a story idea from the late Siobhan Dowd, has a collaboration from two of my favorite authors felt so bittersweet. But Beck, Mal Peet’s posthumously published novel finished by his friend Meg Rosoff, comes close.
—BookPage

The writing is to be savored in this life-affirming novel about the resilience of the human spirit.
—Buffalo News

VOYA, April 2017 (Vol. 40, No. 1) - Shirley Yan
Beck is a brave boy who suffers through hardships, such as the death of his mother, racism, sexual abuse, and loss of guidance and support in order to get to a safe place he can call home. From England to Canada to America and back results in a seventeen-year-old Beck with little knowledge about love, particularly what loving Grace will feel like. The end result is a beautiful joining of two gracious souls. 5Q, 4P. Reviewer: Shirley Yan, Teen Reviewer; Ages 12 to 18.
VOYA, April 2017 (Vol. 40, No. 1) - Ed Goldberg
Times were tough in 1907 England and Beck’s mother did what she needed to do to survive. One encounter with a passing sailor resulted in Beck’s existence. He never knew his father. One month before his eleventh birthday, “his grandparents and his mother and his daft kindly uncle all died in the flu epidemic. Anne [his mother] was the last to go.” Beck is taken to a Catholic orphanage run by the brutal and vicious Sisters of Mercy. Being of mixed race, Beck is victimized by the Sisters and the other orphans. One March morning in 1922, he is transferred to the Christian Brotherhood Home for Boys; however, his tenure is short lived when he spurns the advances of one of the priests. He is unceremoniously put on a vessel bound for Canada to work on a farm, an activity totally foreign to him. His sponsors are cruel and bigoted, and, at the first opportunity, Beck escapes to wander through Canada trying to survive. Beck, started by Peet and completed by Rosoff after his death, is a marvelous tale of a boy beaten down at every turn, whose self-image is destroyed by his “protectors,” trying to find his way in the world. It is an adventure story as well as a love story, although love is a foreign concept to Beck. Readers will feel Beck’s torture, both physical and emotional; they will experience his physical hardships but also rejoice when he discovers true love. Beck will be enjoyed by Peet’s fans, as well as lovers of historical fiction and adventure. Reviewer: Ed Goldberg; Ages 12 to 18.
School Library Journal
★ 03/01/2017
Gr 9 Up—This final novel from the deceased Peet, completed by Rosoff, is a not-quite-YA, not-quite-adult historical fiction story of hardship after hardship. Beck is a Liverpudlian orphan, the son of a white prostitute and an African sailor. Through no choice of his own, Beck is shipped off to Canada with several other orphans to work with the Catholic Brothers. After enduring physical and sexual abuse, Beck is sent to work on a family farm, then begins bootlegging whiskey among Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit, and eventually ends up on the ranch of a half Blackfoot woman named Grace. There is also a blind old wise Blackfoot woman (Grandma of Grace), who might feel like a familiar trope to some. There is a clear attempt to provide historical info from the Blackfoot perspective, and the Blackfoot characters are well-rounded. Readers are slowly and steadily taken through this bleak but beautifully written tale about surviving and finally finding grace. The book itself is incredibly ambitious, as was Rosoff's task of finishing it. Beck is a passive character in his own life, but in the moments when he pushes himself to take action, readers will finally get some satisfaction. A heartbreaking, painful work that gives hope to the restorative power of true human connection. VERDICT Purchase where adult titles circulate well and the authors are popular.—Emily Moore, Camden County Library System, NJ
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2017-02-01
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 African-American couple living near Detroit essentially adopts Beck, now 16, until the trio's involvement in smuggling 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)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780763678425
Publisher:
Candlewick Press
Publication date:
04/11/2017
Pages:
272
Sales rank:
339,816
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.10(d)
Lexile:
790L (what's this?)
Age Range:
16 - 18 Years

Meet the Author

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.

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