cover image The Book of Boy

The Book of Boy

Catherine Gilbert Murdock.. Greenwillow, $16.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-06-268620-6

In a picaresque work of historical fiction set in 14th-century France, "Boy," the only name the young protagonist is given, is drafted for a transcontinental mission by Secundus, a scoundrel posing as a pilgrim. Secundus's quest is to collect seven relics associated with Saint Peter and, thereby, gain entry to heaven. Boy quickly realizes that "collect" really means "steal," and the child struggles with both the moral implications of the adventure and a desire for a miracle. Born with a physical disfigurement, Boy has lived a life of ridicule. Might Saint Peter heal the disability? In first-person narration, Boy recounts the grim realities of medieval life, leavening the telling with wonderfully funny exchanges with animals, with which Boy is able to communicate telepathically. That ability is just one of the special qualities that prompts a priest, who had mentored Boy before perishing from the Black Death, to warn the child, "never reveal yourself." Among the mostly sinister cast, Boy shines with unique, good-hearted brightness. This action-packed tale, with a luminous central character, unspools with a strong message about how appearances can deceive. Ages 8-12. Agent: Jill Grinberg, Jill Grinberg Literary Management. (Feb.)