Times were tough in 1907 England and Beck’s mother did what she needed to survive. One encounter with a passing sailor resulted in Beck’s birth. He never knew his father. One month before his eleventh birthday, “…his grandparents and his mother and his daft kindly uncle all died in the flu epidemic. Anne [his mother] was the last to go.” Beck was taken to the Catholic orphanage, “…run by the methodically cruel Sisters of Mercy.” Being of mixed race, Beck was victimized both by the Sisters as well as other orphans. One March morning in 1922 he was transferred to the Christian Brotherhood Home for Boys. However, his tenure was short lived when he spurned the advances of one of the priests. He was unceremoniously put on a vessel bound for Canada to work on a farm, an activity totally foreign to him. His sponsors were cruel and bigoted and at the first opportunity, Beck escaped to wander through Canada trying to survive.
Beck, started by Mal Peet and completed by Meg Rosoff after his death, is a marvelous tale of a boy beaten down at every turn, whose self-image is destroyed by his ‘protectors’, trying to find his way in the world. It is an adventure story as well as a love story, although love is a foreign concept to him. Both Mal Peet and Meg Rosoff both are excellent writers as you can see by the quotes I included in this review. Readers will feel Beck’s torture, both physical and emotional. They will experience his physical hardships but will also rejoice when he discovers what true love is. Beck will be enjoyed by fans of Mal Peet, historical fiction and adventure.
Tamar and Life: An Exploded Diagram are the only Mal Peet books I’ve read, both of which I enjoyed. They are vastly different books from each other as well as from Beck. The publisher’s description of Tamar is: “When her grandfather dies, Tamar inherits a box containing a series of clues and coded messages. Out of the past, another Tamar emerges, a man involved in the terrifying world of resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied Holland half a century before. His story is one of passionate love, jealousy, and tragedy set against the daily fear and casual horror of the Second World War — and unraveling it is about to transform Tamar’s life forever”. It, too, is full of adventure, has a romantic component, and is extremely well written. It is one of my favorite books.
My suggestion is: read any Mal Peet books you can get your hands on.