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.)
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
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)
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.
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.
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.
Peet and Rosoff use such poignant and stark language...In the end, it's a love story; not about how two people fall in love, but how one person — despite hardship — can finally feel worthy and open enough to accept love.
—Globe and Mail
The writing is to be savored in this life-affirming novel about the resilience of the human spirit.
An epic story set in the 1920s and '30s for erudite, mature readers.
...exquisitely written novel.