I have to admit a certain morbid fascination with true (and true-ish) stories that would be good fodder for Lifetime movies. I’ll admit that was the little corner of my mind that made me pick this title up.
The Boy from the Basement by Susan Shaw
Dutton Children’s Books, 2004
Courtesy of Amazon.com:
Gr. 6-9. Imprisoned in the basement for many years by his violent father, Charlie, 12, is sure he’s being punished because he is bad, and when he escapes and is placed in a loving foster home, it takes him a long time to feel safe in the strange world outside. Through the truth of the boy’s first-person, present-tense narrative, Shaw transforms what could have been a case study of abuse and recovery into a searing story that is part thriller (Will Father find him and hurt him?) and part gentle narrative about finding a home. The psychology in Charlie’s therapy sessions is realistic; he longs to be back with his biological parents, and he desperately needs to believe they love him. But perhaps most compelling for readers are the details of Charlie’s long isolation. Here’s a child who has never seen TV or used the telephone. What is Christmas? Halloween? What is school? Then comes the quiet climax, when Charlie finally finds a place. Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Strengths: This was a fast read, very simply written, but quite powerfully written. Shaw does an admirable job of capturing the inner conflict and fear Charlie experiences after he is removed from the abuse he suffers at the hands of his father. She also manages to show the lasting effects of this abuse in direct fashion; it’s genuine, and not overly melodramatic. I found it refreshing that the story begins essentially at the point where Charlie accidentally (and completely unintentionally) escapes (or perhaps thrusts himself out) from the home. Rather than spending large amounts of painful time detailing and cataloging the litany of hurt inflicted by his father, Shaw focuses instead on the impact and journey to healing.
Potential Flaws: While the simple, cleanly written, hauntingly real narrative is compelling, there is a bit of rosy idealism in the relative ease with which Charlie approaches his recovery. It is by no means whitewashed, but one would expect a far more difficult adjustment to the real world.
I rated this 4 stars for its appropriateness for younger readers. The messages it sends about the effects of abuse and the process of healing are thoughtfully written.