Beck escapes institutional violence and discrimination and mends his spirit through lonely travels across the 1920s Canadian prairie.
Biracial (black/white) Liverpudlian Beck is ushered into institutional orphanage care at age 11, eventually ending up at the Christian Brotherhood charity home in Montreal. The Brothers’ intense involvement in the new boys’ hygiene immediately raises red flags about sexual abuse, and when the white men nickname Beck Chocolat, horrified readers will understand that Beck’s victimhood is nearly assured. This dread heightens the brutality of his final night in the orphanage, imprinting itself on Beck’s and readers’ psyches alike. The next morning Beck is sent off to become free labor for a racist, white, rural agricultural family. Anger and cynicism fuel Beck’s escape, and he aimlessly wanders, barely surviving. Life improves when a sympathetic black couple living near Detroit essentially adopts Beck, now 16, until the trio’s involvement in smuggling results in tragedy. Vowing to avoid further emotional entanglement, Beck sets out on foot across the Canadian prairie, heading west. But fetching up on half-Scottish, half-Siksika Grace McAllister’s land offers different opportunities, if Beck is willing to accept them. With Rosoff working from an unfinished manuscript left behind when Peet died in 2015, the finished book is seamless. Characters’ dialogue is often rendered in earthy regional dialects, while the narrative prose is brilliantly evocative and precise, producing a sweepingly epic physical and emotional journey.
Heartbreaking, hopeful, and inspired. (Historical fiction. 14-adult)