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The Boy From the Basement

The Boy From the Basement

4.1 14
by Susan Shaw

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For Charlie, the cold, dark basement is home. Father has kept him locked in there as punishment. Charlie doesn’t intend to leave, but when he is accidentally thrust outside, he awakens to the alien surroundings of a world to which he’s never before been exposed. Though haunted by hallucinations, fear of the basement, and his father’s rage, Charlie


For Charlie, the cold, dark basement is home. Father has kept him locked in there as punishment. Charlie doesn’t intend to leave, but when he is accidentally thrust outside, he awakens to the alien surroundings of a world to which he’s never before been exposed. Though haunted by hallucinations, fear of the basement, and his father’s rage, Charlie must find a way to survive in his new world. He has escaped his past, but his journey has just begun.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Shaw’s simple language and sentence structure effectively contribute to the realism of her psychological tale….This affecting, ultimately uplifting examination of a boy’s recovery from extreme child abuse is a stunner and certain to attract readers."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
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Twelve-year-old Charlie is locked in his parents' basement. Not for an hour, not for a day, but for years. This "punishment" has left him starving, cold, and mildly hallucinatory, as he continues his existence in the dark, terrified of "Father." Tragically, it's the only home Charlie has ever known.

One night, everything changes as Charlie accidentally locks himself outside. Fearing punishment, he flees in terror. But as Charlie's true journey to freedom begins, he is haunted by the omniscient, raging presence of Father and menacing visions of "the spider."

Shaw's writing is seamless. Narrated entirely by Charlie, there is no comforting past tense in this novel. With authenticity, immediacy, and a palpable sense of danger, Charlie's world becomes the reader's own - a feverish nightmare provoking a profound emotional response.

Waking up to find himself in the care of medical professionals, Charlie's eyes open to wonder at the world around him. His first taste of unconditional love is heartrendingly beautiful and his attention to the ordinary, everyday things we take for granted will fill readers' eyes with tears. Snow, laughter, a father's caress, running free, outside.

Ultimately, Charlie is faced with a choice. Will he choose the liberty of the unknown or the "safety" of familiarity? The Boy from the Basement is an extraordinary tale of recovery, of a child's unrelenting loyalty in the face of hideous betrayal and abuse, and of the healing, transformative power of love. Read it and weep. We did. (Holiday 2004 Selection)

Children's Literature
Twelve-year-old Charlie's story begins with a heartrending scene of human cruelty. "I'm sitting in a basement smelling of old, burned furnace oil. Empty and raw, no feeling of ease or well-being. Just being . . . . I am alone down here." Father is punishing Charlie because he came in contact with other children. In this parent's twisted mind, his only child is contaminated, ruined. Charlie cannot attend school or play with others. Starving, he is forced to sneak upstairs hoping his mother has hidden an apple or onion to assuage his hunger. When he can no longer wait, and if the basement door is unlocked, he tiptoes out into the yard to relieve himself. If only the wind will not reveal his misdeeds under the trees. He is caught escaping once and the violence breaks his shoulder, a constant reminder he must be good. He longs for his father to acknowledge him. "Is it hard for you . . . knowing there's only a door between us? You would see me if you opened it. True and real." Throughout the story a taunting spider takes on frightening attributes of Charlie's abusive parent. "Her rasping ... hot breath. Can't let her touch me again. She's gonna get me!" This first person account, though fictional, surely represents hidden stories of children who escape within themselves to survive. No "and they lived happily after" tale, this is ultimately one of rescue and hope. Susan Shaw exhibits rare insight into a foul side of life in this important work. 2004, Dutton Children's Books, Ages 10 to 14.
—Francine Thomas
In her second novel, Susan Shaw has created a haunting study of an abused boy and the journey he makes toward a normal life. Told from the 12-year-old's point of view, the story follows Charlie as he sneaks up from the basement where his father has sent him as a punishment. Obviously sheltered from society and cultural customs, Charlie is unprepared to find himself locked out of the house and on his own. He is found by police officers and taken to a hospital where the real details of his experience and rigid upbringing come to light. In the hospital he is befriended by Aaron, a sensitive and typical young teen who is both amazed and amused by Charlie's lack of understanding about the world. In Part Two of the novel, Charlie's recovery begins as he is sent to live in a foster home with strong but sympathetic Mrs. Harrigan and a younger child, Ambrose, who is also recovering from abuse at the hands of his mother. Charlie learns what it means to become part of a family but struggles with a fear of leaving the house, even to see his friend play soccer. While Part Two moves more slowly as Charlie is home schooled and counseled, the story illustrates the step-by-step recovery process and the bittersweet longings the children have for the parents who abused them. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2004, Penguin, Dutton, 208p., Ages 12 to 18.
—Janis Flint-Ferguson
School Library Journal
Gr 5-7-Charlie's father has banished him to a dark cellar as punishment for some small transgression, and the boy sneaks upstairs at night while his parents sleep, desperately searching the kitchen for food and going outdoors to relieve himself. After he accidentally locks himself out, he wanders until he collapses, then awakens in a hospital. There, the extent of his deprivation and the resulting damage become clear. He doesn't know his last name or age, he has never heard of Thanksgiving or soccer, he has hallucinations about a menacing spider, and he cannot imagine going into the frightening world of the outdoors. Focusing on Charlie's internal thought processes, the action is primarily psychological. As the boy works with a psychiatrist and begins to trust his foster family, he grows to the point of being able to disagree with his controlling and warped father. However, as the book progresses, it loses tension and becomes repetitive. If he hasn't heard of Halloween or Thanksgiving, can it be much of a surprise that he hasn't seen a Christmas tree either? The intriguing premise can't quite compensate for the average writing and plotting. Elaine Marie Alphin's Counterfeit Son (Harcourt, 2000) and Malachy Doyle's Georgie (Bloomsbury, 2002) provide far more intense pictures of surviving psychological trauma.-Faith Brautigam, Gail Borden Public Library, Elgin, IL Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Charlie, 12, can't read and doesn't even know his last name. He does know he's being punished because he's bad. Father (who is plainly psychotic) keeps Charlie locked in the basement, allowing him to scavenge for food only at night; his frightened mother does nothing to help. One night he steps outside briefly, and the wind blows the door shut behind him. Terrified, he runs into the street, where he's found and hospitalized. Because he has never gone to school, he knows nothing of the simplest things like Halloween and is convinced that he's in danger if he goes outside. His struggle to understand his new life in a loving home and his terror of an imaginary, enormous spider that represents his father are more powerful, since it's Charlie who tells the story. Shaw's simple language and sentence structure effectively contribute to the realism of her psychological tale, even as she avoids a too-vivid description of physical abuse. This affecting, ultimately uplifting examination of a boy's recovery from extreme child abuse is a stunner and certain to attract readers. (Fiction. 12+)

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.22(w) x 6.91(h) x 0.56(d)
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt

The staircase creaks again. A couple of words I don't understand rumble to Mother as Father walks through the dining room. A soft answer from her, the scuff of footsteps from the carpet to the kitchen tiles, and Father's at his desk. Right on the other side of the door at the top of the basement steps. An invisible but uncuttable line attached to him pulls on my chest. I crawl up the steps and touch the door. He must know I'm here.

I want to call him. Father! Do you feel me like I feel you? Is it hard for you to work knowing there's only a door between us? You would see me if you opened it. True and real. You could hear me breathe like I hear you -- if you tried. Is it hard not to open the door and say, "Charlie, come on up!"?

It has to be as hard for him as it is for me. So I don't call. I crawl down again -- silently. I have to wait until he says it's time. That's what he told me. I have learned to believe what he says.

I sit back on the floor, lean against the bottom step. The spider on the ceiling above me spins her web. How she takes her time! After all, why hurry? She's not going anywhere. As long as she doesn't weave a web to catch me -- that idea always lurks in the back of my mind. On my good days, I know I'm too big for her to want, but still I worry. As long as she has smaller things to catch, I'm all right.

She swells up while I look, then flattens down again so I can hardly see her. How did she do that? I watch to see if she'll do it again, but she doesn't. Then right as I turn my head, I see her puff up once more out of the corner of my eye. When I turn my head, though, it's like nothing happened. The spider taunts me with her sameness. I watch a long time this time, but she doesn't move at all.

I hear the leaves shifting under the wind, losing myself in the rolling, shhshhing sound.

I pick up my pencils from behind the steps. Mother sticks them under the door once in a while. Sharpens them for me sometimes. There's paper behind the steps, too -- old computer paper left by the people who lived here before. Stacks of it.

I feel the ridges in the wood of a pencil, touch the marks stamped in the yellow paint, let the blackness transfer from the point and stain my fingertips. Then I slide a paper into a patch of sunlight trapped by the window well and draw. I've drawn everything in the basement over and over -- the furnace, the water heater, the old red wagon with two wheels missing, and the gray clothesline still dotted with clothespins. All from the people who lived here before us.

I feel myself at the kitchen table when I draw, and it's the way things used to be. I'm there. Mother and Father work, and I draw -- there. But when the drawing ends, the table goes, and I am still, still here.

Today, I draw random lines without thinking too much about what it is. Like the spider, I'm in no hurry. There's plenty of time.

But right now, I don't feel like drawing. I'm tired of the endless stretch of time. I've been down here so long, and I don't feel real good. When is Father going to let me upstairs again? When will my punishment be over?

Was what I did this bad?

I drop my pencil and roll onto my back. I'm sick of drawing.

The spider's up on the ceiling, as always. Dark red with black markings like two bent fingers facing each other. And a bunch of black legs busy, always busy. The spider's head turns to look down. Father's face bulges out at me. I blink. No. It's only the spider. Father's upstairs, of course. What made my eyes play that trick?

After I lie here for a while, I begin to shiver. I'm colder suddenly. I pull the towel around me. Then I'm too hot, sweating, even. I blot my sweat with the towel, but that takes too much energy. So I just sweat, feeling the gathering liquid drip onto the floor. I'm cold again.

What's happening? I can't be sick. Can't. There's no extra energy for that. Only for just making it through the day.

Drowsiness creeps over me, and my body feels heavy, ready to sink into the floor. I gladly give in to sleep, the sweetest time taker. . . .

I wake up, holding onto the shield of sleep until I can no longer pretend. I'm still sick, and the presence of the spider and her web is strong. She's going to get me, and I'm afraid, so afraid.

Sick with a terrible thirst, and scared, scared.

Calm, Charlie -- stay calm. No energy to be upset. Don't have any to waste.

I lie still and wait. Upstairs, a clock chimes. I count four. Count five. Count six.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"Shaw’s simple language and sentence structure effectively contribute to the realism of her psychological tale….This affecting, ultimately uplifting examination of a boy’s recovery from extreme child abuse is a stunner and certain to attract readers." —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Meet the Author

Susan Shaw works as a music educator and is the author of one previous book for young readers. She lives with her family near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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The Boy from the Basement 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I personally thought that this book was really good and needed to have a bit more to the story like more thought into the character of the father and a bit more information about the punishment and what he did exactly to deserve this punishment.More information is needed on Charlie in his younger years like if his father was always like this or not.
DHS-SECOVAUS-0_0 More than 1 year ago
This book is for everybody who loves drama, would recommend for teens and adults. It had a strong emotion for the story that changes itself all the time. Anybody could say that this book moved me, but instead it inspired me. This book made me stronger person inside and outside, with better personality. Yes, I would read more interesting books, by this amazing, wonderful arthur. Thats it.
Modern_Reader3 More than 1 year ago
A solid story of the 'ol abused child. Much contrast to the classic " a boy called it" but with a twist. After being locked up all his life in the basement, hes exposed to the outside world which poses many mental and phisical problems. after a long visit in a hospital he is put with a much better family that opens his eyes in order to realize the wrong his parents did. Very good book that would definatley belong on your book shelf.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is short and simple, even more so since it's told from the perspective of a little abused boy. And yet this is what makes it so good and heart-felt. It's quite an amazing book that deals with a real issue facing society.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I love this book. It is one of the best books i have ever read!!!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a great book. I loved it. It was about a boy who was abused by his dad. The dad would make the boy stay in the basement until he was good. The boy never did anything bad. The mom would always sneak down there and hide food so that he could eat. One day the boy waited until his parents went to bed. Then, he went outside to go to the bathroom, and he got locked out so he ran. The next morning he was in a hospital because the police found him on the street. Then when his parents showed up they couldnt stay with him. So the boy had to live with someone else. He was now a foster child. Then a really bad thing happens at the end of the book, so you really need to read this.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a great book for people who like reality fiction. I usually don't like reality based books, because i think it will have no action. But I was wrong! This book has a LOT of action. The characters are realistic and have unique personalities. I'd recommend thins book to everyone!
Guest More than 1 year ago
this is tooo sad for kids under the age of 9 years old or younger this should be a longer book and be mad for high school students and older.people i dont think you want your child to have night mares every single night!!!!!!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
no offense to anybody but this was not a very good book in my opinion. i don't know why i didnt like it i just couldn't get into it. i like the topic she chose to write about. its just that the tone didn't feel right. well i didn't think i was a great book