What You Need To Know:
Boy’s Life is a classic, awarding winning novel (the 1992 Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel as well as the 1992 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel) that is at its core an elegy for youth and childhood. It ranks as perhaps the fourth novel* that actually managed to make me cry.
Boy’s Life is not a perfect novel but you should read it anyway. McCammon’s prose is top notch and the novel is at times funny, sad, contemplative, and joyous. Sometimes all of those at once. It is a time capsule that contains a vision of youth in world that seems paused on the brink of revolution that takes place in small-town community that seems increasingly alien. Boy’s Life doesn’t flinch away from the violence of youth nor does it look away as innocence is exposed to the cold and dark that exist in the reality of the adult world. It’s a novel that walks a fine line between truth and magic leaning hard towards that latter because for children magic is truth.
There are elements of the novel that don’t sit quite a well for me. I do enjoy a heavy plot in my novel, a thread at least that pulls me forward, and Boy’s Life is very episodic. The underlying mystery of the murdered man Cory and his father encounter in the beginning of the novel however the story wanders far afield of that mystery. Each episode encountered in the novel does in fact impact that mystery in small ways but it is done so in way that is both organic and near imperceptible. The end result is both masterful and frustrating.
The novel’s narrator Cory says, as an adult in the early 90s, that the “…world wants children to be miniature adults, devoid of charm and magic and the beauty of innocence.” Words written in the burgeoning days of the Information Age and words that sound even truer in a world rife with near ubiquitous access to mountains of information and ever dwindling privacy. Boy’s Life is a novel that help remind oneself of the magic inherent in childhood in a world that seems to grow ever more complicated. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
* The other novels are Charlotte’s Web, Talisman, and Fool’s Fate
The section that really got me in Boy’s Life is a minor spoiler so if you haven’t read it yet, stop here. I’ve pulled the quote below:
There were so many of them. So many. I remember hearing this somewhere: when an old man dies, a library burns down. I recalled Davy Ray’s obituary in the Adams Valley Journal. They said he died in a hunting accident. They said who his mother and father were, that he had a younger brother named Andy and that he was a member of the Union Town Presbyterian Church. They said his funeral would be at ten-thirty in the morning. What they had left out stunned me. They hadn’t said one word about the way the corners of his crinkled up when he laughed, or how he would set his mouth to one side in preparation for a verbal jab at Ben. There had been no mention of the shine in his eyes when he saw a forest trail he hadn’t explored before, or how he chewed his bottom lip when he was about to pitch a fastball. They had written down the cut-and-dried of it, but they had not mentioned the real Davy Ray. I wondered about this as I walked amid the grave. How many stories were here, buried and forgotten? How many old burned libraries, how many young ones that been building their volumes year by year? And all those stories, lost. I wished there was a place you could go, and sit in a room like a movie theater and look through a catalogue of a zillion names and then you press a button and a face would appear on the screen to tell you about the life that had been. It would be a living memorial to the generations who had gone on before, and you could hear their voices though those voices had been stilled for a hundred tears. It seemed to me, as I walked in the presence of all those stilled voices that would never be heard again, that we were a wasteful breed. We had thrown away the past, and our future was impoverished for it.