B.E. Boucher’s YA adventure novel The Sceptre starts out in the scariest place a teenager can find themselves: high school. Geof, nicknamed the Bear due to his immense height, is a sweet boy nursing the lingering pain of his mother’s mysterious disappearance when he was very little. Geof and his best friend, Jon, aka Jonster the Monster, stand out among their adolescent peers simply because they’re kind and like to face down bullies. Luckily Geof’s impressive height gives him an advantage against the meaner kids, and he’s quick to use his intimidating stature to protect the smaller kids around him:
Two boys with big red X’s on their notebooks rushed up behind Clark. One of them reached out and swatted the books from his arm. The two punks snickered as Clark’s books and notebook fell to the floor. Clark bent down to collect a book, but it was kicked by one of the punks and landed on Geof’s left foot. Geof scooped it up to return it to the boy and found his path blocked by the bullies.
Geof gently but firmly moved them to one side with his arm and handed the book to the boy. The bullies glared at him but did nothing. Bullies like little guys, and even though he wore glasses, the six-foot-four-inch Geof was too big of a risk. Clark mumbled, “Thanks,” and blurred into his locker-hugging sanctuary. Jonster the Monster and the Bear had so looked forward to this year and its possibilities that it never occurred to them that school could be a horror show for some kids.
But when Jon and Geof talk to Native American elder Donald Deernose, they discover an adventure far away from the mundane stresses of the high school cafeteria. Deernose tells Geof that his mother’s disappearance was because she fled to a magical realm in order to escape a terrible illness. When Jon and Geof, along with their friends Debbie and Patricia, make the perilous journey to find Geof’s mother in this magical world, they’re pulled into a mission to defeat an evil king who wants to conquer the entire realm for himself.
The Sceptre is just the first installment in a trilogy. Kirkus Reviews praises this series opener for its treatment of YA characters and tone and highlights the novel’s “action-packed storyline, which is not only chock-full of fantastical creatures and locales, but also includes more than a few bombshell plot twists.” As far as how The Sceptre serves as an enticing taste of a bigger story, Kirkus notes that “the author creates a character-driven narrative filled with so many thrills and adventures that fantasy fans will find it difficult to simply stop reading.”
Boucher, who lives in New Hampshire and, other than writing, is retired, wrote the book for and about his son, the real Geof. After battling brain cancer for 14 years, Geof passed away in 2021. Boucher had toyed with the idea of writing a story about Geof and his friend Jon for years, mostly because their nicknames, Jonster the Monster and the Bear, made an irresistible title for a book. Eventually Boucher came up with the idea for the plot for The Sceptre when he considered that writing an adventure book could give Geof the opportunity to have all kinds of adventures he couldn’t have in his real life.
Once Boucher got some momentum going with the writing, Geof enthusiastically joined in. Geof’s mind was always churning with ideas; he’d even developed an app to help people see what’s in front of them if they need to scroll on their phone while walking. It was Geof’s idea to actually try and publish the book and get it into the hands of kids who could benefit from a story about persevering through tough times. “That was the thing that Geof, through 14 years of dealing with brain cancer, impressed everyone with,” says Boucher. “He had this optimism and a never-say-die attitude throughout everything. I became convinced that he was right and that his fantasy story, not the story of his cancer, could inspire kids.”
As a writer, Boucher jumped into The Sceptre with zero expectations. “I sat down and said, ‘Now what?’ ” “I just started writing, and I let the characters take me where they wanted to.” He began by giving all the characters, not just Geof and Jon, the names of real people he knew, just as place holders. But eventually he found he was able to use some of those characters to honor real people, just like he did with Geof. Patricia Chamness, for one, joins Geof and Jon on their adventure, but the real Pat was a close friend of Boucher’s who died unexpectedly when she was very young.
Now that Geof has passed away, Boucher is eager for kids to be inspired by his fictional version of Geof’s life. Kirkus calls The Sceptre “a bracing adventure—fun, fast, and with themes like love, friendship, and the power of family,” and Boucher extends those themes of love and friendship to animals as well as people.
Readers will note the many animal characters who come to Geof’s aid in the book, like Uriah, the talking cocker spaniel. Of course, talking animals are a perfect fit for a fantasy story, but Boucher, a lifelong vegetarian, also wanted to share his passion for the humane treatment of animals. “The book is meant to inspire kids to overcome whatever kind of nasty is in their life,” says Boucher, “and also to inspire everyone to treat animals with kindness and the understanding that we’re not the only ones on this Earth.”
The Sceptre is out for English-speaking readers now, but after attending a book show and being told his book had been chosen for translation into Arabic, Boucher is very excited to share his story with more kids worldwide. He is also working on developing a game to go along with the book. And, of course, readers who love The Sceptre have two more books in the series to watch out for.
Chelsea Ennen is a writer living in Brooklyn.