Nightly, Kafkaesque dreams of a giant beetle plague 18-year-old Charlie as he recuperates from a ruptured Achilles tendon in the home of his girlfriend, Clara.
Clara, well-meaning but intrusive, sees herself as an angel of mercy who can patch up Charlie’s broken family by inviting his estranged younger brother, Liam, and mother over without telling him. After his mother left him and Liam alone with their abusive father, Charlie spent years seeking the safety he’d thought he found at age 7 when he first recounted his mother’s bedtime stories about a character called Beetle Boy to his father, something he’d come to recognize as “an early big mistake.” His con-man father printed the stories and paraded Charlie around to book fairs in a beetle costume as “the World’s Youngest Published Author.” When Charlie grew too old, his father passed Liam off as Charlie, straining the relationship between the brothers to the breaking point. Charlie has survived with the help of Mrs. M., a curmudgeonly author he met at a fair, who has kept an eye on him over the years. Willey takes readers along on Charlie’s painful journey back to physical and emotional health via a meandering timeline of flashbacks, dreams and wrenching conversations, skillfully weaving together the bits and pieces of his life. Innovative use of type brings an immediacy to Charlie’s struggles as he slowly looks the truth—and his brother—squarely in the face.
Demanding—and riveting. (Fiction. 13-17)