Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Charlatan’s Boy

Title: The Charlatan’s Boy

Series: #1 in untitled series

Author: Jonathan Rogers

Genre: Mid-grade Humor

Excerpt from “Chapter 1: In which I jump out of box and play the Wild Man of the Feechiefen Swamp”:

I don’t remember one thing about the day I was born. It hasn’t been for lack of trying either. I’ve set for hours trying to go back as far as I could, but the earliest thing I remember is riding in the back of Floyd’s wagon and looking at myself in a looking glass.

I’ve run across folks claim they know everything about their birthday—where it happened, who they was with, what day it was. But if you really press them on it, turns out they don’t remember no more about it than I do. They only know what somebody told them.

I don’t care who you are—when it comes to knowing where you come from, you got to take somebody else’s word for it. That’s where things has always got ticklish for me. I only know one man who might be able to tell me where I come from, and that man is a liar and a fraud.

A young boy raised by a charlatan recounts the misadventure of his life.

The Craft: In the writing world, one of the most talked about aspects of craft is voice—the use of language and wordsmithing to create a unique cadence and sound to the story’s telling. Voice can be very difficult to master, but if used well, it can be attention-grabbing and wonderfully engaging. The Charlatan’s Boy is an excellent example of this.

After all, what can be more boring than a discourse on one’s birth? We, as readers, don’t usually care about such things. Yet this is where The Charlatan’s Boy begins, and not only are we not bored, we’re thoroughly engaged. All because of the voice of Grady.

Of course voice cannot do everything. But the voice in The Charlatan’s Boy is combined with a semi-episodic but engaging plot, a diverse cast of characters, and a heaping does of humor. The result? A humorous tale colorfully depicting a life of misadventure.

The Content: Set in the world of a scam artist’s half-truths and performance-driven manipulation, The Charlatan’s Boy is about a search for truth and identity. It captures much of the tumultuous confusion pre-teens & teen face as they seek to answer the questions, “What is true? Whom do I trust? Who am I? What defines my identity?”

As a result, it deals with trust and betrayal, the craving for approval, the marks—and gifts—of friendship, and the freedom truth provides, among other things, although there is no clear spiritual thread at this point (I suspect from the final chapter that it may show up in the coming books).

However, I have one major reservation about this story: Because it portrays the world of charlatans in a comical fashion, this can cause that world’s deception and lies look harmless, permissible, and even downright attractive. Grady, the protagonist, occasionally feels twangs of a guilty conscience, but it is never enough to dissuade him from propagating the lies, and he often justifies his actions—a far too common problem in our society. Nor are the devastating consequences and the destructive nature of such deception totally revealed—and especially not with the clear connection between action and consequence, which this age group often requires.

Some of this could still be coming; this is only the first book of the series. But in the meantime, I recommend parents exercise some caution in handing this book to their child, especially if the child has manipulative tendencies.

Summary: The Charlatan’s Boy is a funny and engaging tale of misadventure, very reminiscent of Huckleberry Finn, with some good content about truth and identity. However, the manipulation and deception are not rebuked as strongly or clearly as I would prefer, especially considering its target reader of pre-teen age. So though strongly recommended as a fun read for older readers, some caution advised with younger readers. This novel would also make an excellent discussion book, a tool parents can use to help their children grow and practice discernment.

Rating: Craft—5, Content—3, Overall—4.2 out of 5 stars

Disclaimer: In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.


Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Excellent review, Chawna. Besides being a good discussion book, I think it's excellent as a read-aloud, too. Definitely worth buying. I hope lots of folks consider it for Christmas. I think it's a keeper, right up there with some of the other classics.


Jonathan Rogers said...

Hey, Chawna--
Thanks for your thoughtful review. As you say in the subtitle of your blog, there's friction between faith and fiction. I'm glad you paid attention to the friction in The Charlatan's Boy. It's a key to making sense of the story. And an easy resolution of the friction would make for poor fiction.

You say that the characters' bad behavior wasn't rebuked as much as you would like. What do you imagine such rebuke would look like? Are you specifically talking about punishment for bad or wrong actions?

Chawna Schroeder said...

Thanks for the compliment, Becky. And you're right, this would make a great read-aloud, both for its voice as well as its episodic nature.

And thank you, Mr. Rogers, for stopping by.

You asked what I believe such a rebuke as I desired would look like. There's no clear cut answer, as we are dealing with story. Every story is unique. So the answer to the question will be equally unique.

In general terms, I look for a couple things. One, is evil shown as evil and good protrayed as good? Do each of these things reap appropriate consequence (punishment for evil, reward for good)? Does the protrayal push us away from evil and toward good?

How clear cut each of these are also depends on the target reader of the book. The younger the child, the less ability to discern, and the more clear cut the issue needs to presented.

What would that look like for this story specifically? I'm not completely sure. The repercussions were there; evil was called evil and good good for the most part. A clearer punishment for wrong could help. But for this story, I was probably looking more for a clear connection between the wrong and the hurt it inflicts on others, not just punishment on self (e.g. more of the stuff like Floyd's betrayal). This pushes the reader not to duplicate the action.

But I'm not sure that's totally the answer either. I guess I would say ultimately, since we're seeing the story through Grady's eyes, I would like to see some acknowledgement on his part of the wrongness of his deeds, especially after him justifying it, and remorse for the evil. I say "ultimately" because Grady was obviously not ready for such a move in this book, and that's why I wait in anticipation to see what occurs in the next one.

I hope that makes sense and answers your questions.