Set in France in 1350, Boy is a young man, thought to be a simpleton and hunchback, who works as a servant and goatherd. Secundus, a pilgrim on his way to Rome, drafts Boy for his mission and is sent along on Secundus’ quest to collect seven relics of Saint Peter – Rib, Tooth, Thumb, Toe, Dust, Skull, and Tomb – so he can gain passage to Heaven. When Boy questions Secundus’ methods – they sure look a lot like thievery – he is told that they are protecting the relics from others. Boy is so much more than everyone around him realizes – more than he realizes. He puts his faith in Secundus’ mission, hoping that Saint Peter will heal him and make him “a boy” at the end of his mission, but Secundus starts figuring out that there’s more to Boy than meets the eye: he can communicate with animals, for starters.
A dash of Canterbury Tales with a story of how true good can blossom in a seemingly lost society makes this a consuming read. Boy is kind, gentle, and naive, but he’s anything but simple. He’s truly special; paired with Secundus, a deceiving pilgrim with a personal agenda, makes Boy’s goodness stand out even more. The grittiness of Europe in the post-Black Death Middle Ages comes alive with Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s descriptions of the sights, smells, even textures of the age; reading about the religious relics is all at once fascinating and cringe-worthy (descending into a tomb to scoop up some of Saint Peter’s ashes has quite possibly given me goosebumps that will stay with me forever), because it really happened. An author’s note gives some more insight into the Holy Year of 1350, the relics market in Europe, and the burial site of Saint Paul, a plot point in the book.
Ian Schoenherr’s black and white woodcut illustrations add to the the feeling of perusing a medieval text. The Book of Boy has starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, and the Horn Book and is a must-add to your collections. Give this to your historical fiction readers and your adventure readers.