CKG review: Beck by Mal Peet with Meg Rosoff

What makes an outstanding book for children? Rich in language, holding a compelling plot and utterly convincing characters, Beck is at the upper end of the ability and interest level for this year’s Carnegie shortlisted titles. This has led to some criticism as has its uncompromising glimpse into an age of racial prejudice and power hierarchies. In spite of these facts, Beck, offers its readers an intensely poignant and thought-provoking experience that they will return to time and again. 

Beck is a rites of passage novel set in Liverpool, Canada and the United States. Ignatius Beck is born out of wedlock, the lovechild from a dalliance between his mother and an African soldier. Orphaned and growing up in an age of prejudice, Beck’s early childhood is a struggle. His plight becomes harder still when he is taken in by the Catholic Brothers. Suffering physical and sexual abuse, Beck is sold into a life of servitude. Disgusted by the maltreatment he experiences, he escapes and becomes embroiled in bootlegging forging a friendship and close alliance with Irma and Bone, but things turn sour when gang rivalries manifest themselves resulting in Beck needing to take to the road again.


 Through an almost mystical encounter, Beck meets with Grace McAllister and forms an uneasy relationship, one scarred by the cruelty and rejection he has suffered formerly. In spite of this a difficult form of spiritual, emotional and sexual awakening occurs for Beck, although bonds remain hard for him to form and maintain. A story of resilience in extreme adversity, it is hard not to champion Beck through the harsh landscape and life that he journeys through.

 The story behind its creation is itself fascinating and quite beguiling – written by Mal Peet, a past winner of the Carnegie Medal with his novel Tamar, the book was incomplete upon his death in 2015. Friend and peer author, Meg Rosoff, also a past Carnegie winner with her novel Just in Case, completed the novel. An extraordinary story of identity, prejudice and attachment this is a book that makes profound and humane comment that readers will ponder upon long after the final pages are completed.

Jake

Beck is published by Walker Books

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