cover image Beck


Mal Peet, with Meg Rosoff. Candlewick, $17.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-7636-7842-5

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.)