Wednesday 7 February 2018

Book Review: Beck by Mal Peet

Last Updated: 13 July 2021

Beck by Mal Peet book cover

AD* | Both harrowing and life-affirming, the final novel from Carnegie Medal-winning author Mal Peet is the sweeping coming-of-age adventure of a mixed-race boy transported to North America.

Born from a street liaison between a poor young woman and an African soldier in the 1900s, Beck is soon orphaned and sent to the Catholic Brothers in Canada. Shipped to work on a farm, his escape takes him across the continent in a search for belonging. Enduring abuse and many hardships, Beck has times of comfort and encouragement, eventually finding Grace, the woman with whom he can finally forge his life and shape his destiny as a young man. A picaresque novel set during the Depression as experienced by a young black man, it depicts great pain but has an uplifting and inspiring conclusion.

As a big fan of Mal Peet, I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to review his last ever book. Tamar will always hold a firm place in my heart as one of my favourite books of all time, so I was understandably excited to find out whether this final novel, Beck, would live up to my expectations.

Beck is a sweeping story of grand proportions, following the life of a young orphan boy (the eponymous Beck) as he journeys from England, over the sea, and across the length and breadth of North America. With a story such as this, Beck is nothing short of an epic - a modern-day version of the typical types of grandiose tales that become timeless, read again and again over the years.

While it may be set in the past, some of the issues raised within the book are ones that are still highly relevant today. With the ongoing protests and debates in America around race and skin colour, some of the abuse that Beck faces purely because of the fact that he is not white really is eye-opening. However, this isn't the only difficult issue that this novel tackles head-on.

Child abuse, especially of a sexual nature, is another topic that has been hitting the headlines recently. The abuse that Beck and the other boys face at the hands of the men who are supposed to be caring for them is truly horrific - not least because of the way that we see how much it continues to affect Beck in the months and years after the events took place. This ongoing emotional and psychological problem, brought about as a result of the abuse, is something that is still as relevant today as it was at the time when the book was set.

As always, Mal Peet doesn't shy away from discussing such difficult, contentious and painful topics - history and real-life are shown in all their glory, good and bad, and this is one of the reasons why I admire him so much as an author. With this tale of a lost orphan boy heading through life, discovering the world and eventually finding his place and becoming a man, it's clear that this is the perfect final tale for such a talented, renowned author.

Rating: 3 stars

Beck is available to buy now.

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* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Have you read any of Mal Peet's books? Are you a fan? Let me know in the comments below!

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