Boo: A Novel
Some books just seem meant to be experienced as audio books and Boo: A Novel is absolutely one of them. I am usually pretty picky when it comes to audio books. As someone who is hearing impaired, listening to audio books requires a lot of dedication. I can’t just listen to them while doing something else. I have to make sure I have an earbud in my one good ear and even then I have to focus on every single word to make sure I understand what’s going on.
Listening to Boo: A Novel is an incredible experience and it’s one I’m glad I was able to have. This is a story that begs to be told – not just read. The narration adds a level of heartrending emotion to the story and gives you a very intimate, personal connection to our storyteller.
Written entirely in the first person as letters to his parents after his death, the book chronicles the afterlife of thirteen year old Oliver Dalrymple – known as Boo to his classmates. In life he was a nerdy, bullied boy who was far more interested in science and math than he was pop culture or his social standing. He hoped to someday be a scientist.
And then he died.
Oliver’s afterlife takes the form of a place called “Town,” where dead thirteen year olds from America all find themselves once they pass on. At first he thinks he died from a congenital heart defect, but he soon discovers later after another classmate, Johnny, arrives in “Town” that he was, in fact, killed in a school shooting at his suburban middle school. Together, the boys struggle to adapt to their new circumstances and to adjust to death with the help of a few new friends. But when Johnny gets it in his head that ‘Gun Boy’ – the kid who killed them – has been allowed into “Town” they start a manhunt that leads to disastrous results.
Because the book is expository and written as letters to Oliver’s parents, the narration for this book is important. Kirby Heyborne has his work cut out for him and yet he somehow manages to channel Boo perfectly. Though his voice is clearly that of an adult, it doesn’t really distract from the story. Heyborne manages to make every part of the story come to life – from Oliver’s recitation of the periodic table to his rare moments of over emotional outbursts.
He’s an unusual boy and you can see that in the way he writes. He’s overly formal – he calls his parents mother and father and speaks in a manner far beyond his years. He’s very aware of his own unusual behaviors, including his unwillingness to be touched and his inability to understand relationships. Most likely he would have been recognized on the autism specturm had be been born today instead of in the 1960s.
Kirby Heyborne takes all of that and creates a hauntingly beautiful narration.
Whether or not you pick this up in audio format or in print, Boo: A Novel is a book that you should pick up. While it’s a middle grade/young adult novel it’s one that anyone can enjoy. The mystery of “Town” and it’s implications are intriguing and Oliver’s character development from his initial arrival in “Town” to his ultimate revelation about his death will keep you absolutely enthralled.
A word of warning though: this is an emotional book. Even though Oliver is not a particularly emotional character the book deals with very heavy subjects. Oliver and Johnny are not the only murdered children in our cast of characters. And every single child in this book died at a very young age. It’s a unique look at death, grief, and acceptance – topics that is very hard to tackle in any book.
So be prepared for an onslaught of feelings. Maybe have a tissue handy. Because this is a book that will hit you hard and stick with you for a while.