A boy watches the only life he’s ever known burn to the ground in this novel.
In this coming-of-age tale, 12-year-old Simon Seeker is no ordinary boy. Up until the fire, he had lived with his recluse father, a free-thinking former children’s novelist, on a vast farm. Their main interaction with the outside world came in the form of monthly visits from his father’s childhood friend Roger, a city-dwelling lawyer who often had little patience for Simon. When his father is diagnosed with cancer, Simon becomes his caretaker, executing his final wishes—or most of them, anyway. On the night Simon’s home burns with his father in it, the boy is supposed to stay and wait for Roger, now his guardian. He will shepherd Simon to Wind Lake School, an experimental farming school where Roger and the boy’s father first met. Instead, Simon sets out on his own, and his journeys, along with Roger’s subsequent search for him, bring together an unlikely crew, including a kindly trucker named Ben Pyle and maternal figure Jenna, a sex worker he meets while staying in what he doesn’t quite realize is a brothel. In Boston, where Simon settles, his knowledge of plants and animals astounds a popular TV host who interviews him, transforming Simon into a new star of the ecological movement (“The Stardust Kid”). Roger’s vaguely nefarious scheme to whisk Simon away from his new friends and off to boarding school eventually reveals the attorney’s own complex notions of love, companionship, and home, though his arc could be made more explicit. Wallace’s (The Starlight Medallions, 2010, etc.) Simon is an otherworldly enough combination of wise and naïve (“I saw his soul go up among the stars” is how he describes watching his father’s body burn) for readers to suspend disbelief at certain fantastical series of events. The stirring story will move the audience along its many twists and will manage to charm along the way.
An uplifting adventure as charismatic as its precocious protagonist.