Beck is one of these titles which has so many threads to it that it is almost impossible to review. Reminiscent of the Woody Guthrie tale in Tod Haynes’ movie I’m Not There, there is a nomadic character to Beck, rendering it difficult to pinpoint the tone, style and thread of the book, especially as it was conceived by the sadly departed Mal Peet and finished by his esteemed friend and fellow award-winning young adult writer, Meg Rosoff.
Brutal yet compassionate, this compelling book is the age-old tale of survival and romance. The book is evocative in its themes, opening with the accidental conception, orphaning and dispatch across the Atlantic to Canada of the protagonist, where he is abused by the supremely contentious Christian Brothers. That does not even take into account the fact that he is black, which deepens the emotional affect, as it is set at a time when a life of servitude is standard for a non-white boy in the early 1900s. The tale of his escape is one that you can’t put down, as is his time on the road, reading with bated breath.
Albeit brief, his kinship with Irma and Bone, and stories of bootlegging are bracing, as is of course his contentious romance with the spiritual Grace. You would be forgiven a sigh as you hit this part, as brutally harrowing this book is and painful at times, there is a relieving life-affirming side to this novel. The fact that he does discover a kinder side to human nature and love in this bleak world renders it so.
As for this act of finishing a book by an author passed away, this is not the first time we have seen the likes of this, a beautiful homage to a wonderful writer’s work. Patrick Ness also did similar with Siobhan Dowd’s A Monster Calls which is coming out as a film adaptation this month, as it was a handsome interpretation and tear-jerking account. However, after reading Meg Rosoff’s final edit of Peet’s creation, it would not be surprising to find this final novel by the Carnegie-winning author cinematically visualised. A charmingly saddening coming-of-age adventure.