This is the sweeping historical final novel from previous Carnegie Medal-winning author Mal Peet, telling the epic tale of the hardship of a multi-race orphan in Liverpool in the early 1900s, who suffers terrible abuse from those supposed to protect him. The story follows his journey and how his indomitable spirit only grows and how he learns not simply to survive, but to thrive.
It is a moving and memorable tale of inspiring and remarkable resilience.
It might be bleak, heart-breaking, tough to read in places, but it's strong message shines through in Beck's character. That no matter where you might start from, even with a damaged early life, it does not stop you being able to give and receive love.
These are big themes for a children’s novel. Big themes for an adult novel. This story definitely comes with a warning that it is not for younger readers (though perfect for old children's book groups or indeed any adult bookgroups).
It is due to Beck’s unbroken spirit and strength of heart that he somehow manages to transcend the terrible triple fate of his birth – being born poor, of mixed-race and then orphaned at eleven, when he is thrown onto the mercy of the charity of the church, told he is one of the lucky ones, and shipped off to start a new life in Canada. But there he suffers appalling abuse in the hands of the Catholic brothers into whose hands he is delivered.
Even this does not break Beck's indomitable instinct to survive, his spirit never waivers, even in the bleakest of situations, and he a character that is warm. clever, resourceful and loyal.
It is in rooting for Beck to find a happy ending that keeps us reading as he survives every setback and clambers and conquers every obstacle.
It is also the beautiful writing which brings close understanding, so full of empathy in this collaboration between Mal Peet and Meg Rosoff, who completed the work after Peet died.
The writing is outstanding, varying between being sometimes shocking and raw, sometimes beautiful and tender.
What Beck is really searching for is a sense of belonging, which he so nearly reaches, but remains tantalisingly elusive.
It unstintingly tackles huge issues: racism, sexual abuse by clergy members, poverty. Beck not only overcomes everything that is thrown at him, but, more importantly, finds a way not to be brutalised. He finds a way not simply to survive, but to remain able to give and receive love and when Beck has journeyed far, grown up, the tone finally softens.
You will want to follow Beck’s journey right up to his hard-won happy ending in the arms of the older woman, when Beck can finally put the devastation of his harrowing early years behind him, find love and achieve the place he belongs, somewhere he can truly call home. And enjoy what he so richly deserves.
A story not without pain, but one with an uplifting and inspiring conclusion. Beck is a story bursting with life and feeling and his journey is one worth the struggle. And this book is definitely worth the read.