Beck recounts the story of a biracial orphan who lives in a constant state of upheaval. After being transferred from one horrible orphanage to one horrible monastery, Beck seeks solace as a drifter—taking odd jobs as they come, and eating only enough not to starve. Like Peet's other works, Beck endures and transforms in many ways over the course of his life: although the story begins during Beck's dark childhood, the novel concludes in his uncertain adult years—right as he discovers love. Yet the long arc of Beck's existence is punctuated by memories better erased than kept, moments that readers will question and ponder long after his story's end. Sophisticated readers familiar with Peet, fans of historical fiction, and readers of all ages prepared for complex emotions and adult themes will embrace Beck as one of the best books of the year. — Aubrey Restifo
From Carnegie Medal–winning author Mal Peet comes a sweeping coming-of-age adventure, both harrowing and life-affirming.
Born of a brief encounter between a Liverpool prostitute and an African soldier in 1907, Beck finds himself orphaned as a young boy and sent overseas to the Catholic Brothers in Canada. At age fifteen he is sent to work on a farm, from which he eventually escapes. Finally in charge of his own destiny, Beck starts westward, crossing the border into America and back, all while the Great Depression rages on. What will it take for Beck to understand the agonies of his childhood and realize that love is possible?
About the Author
Mal Peet (1947–2015) was a critically acclaimed and award-winning writer. Besides his young-adult fiction, he wrote several illustrated books for younger children with his wife, Elspeth Graham.
Meg Rosoff is the author of How I Live Now, winner of the Michael L. Printz Award. She also received the Carnegie Medal and the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award and was named a National Book Award Finalist. Meg Rosoff completed Mal Peet’s unfinished novel, a promise she made him before he died. She lives in London.
A gritty and inspiring survival story, Peet’s final novel, completed by Rosoff after his death, has the stoic quality and soul of a Steinbeck tale...Harrowing but hopeful, it’s a memorable portrait of a boy struggling to love, be loved, and find his way against overwhelming odds. —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
This final novel from the deceased Peet, completed by Rosoff, is a not-quite-YA, not-quite-adult historical fiction story of hardship after hardship...The book itself is incredibly ambitious, as was Rosoff’s task of finishing it. Beck is a passive character in his own life, but in the moments when he pushes himself to take action, readers will finally get some satisfaction. A heartbreaking, painful work that gives hope to the restorative power of true human connection. —School Library Journal (starred review)
Characters' dialogue is often rendered in earthy regional dialects, while the narrative prose is brilliantly evocative and precise, producing a sweepingly epic physical and emotional journey. Heartbreaking, hopeful, and inspired. —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Whether a hardened heart can—or should—leave itself vulnerable to love is brilliantly explored in this powerful, vividly told, beautifully written collaboration. —Shelf Awareness for Readers (starred review)
Peet’s posthumous novel, completed by Rosoff, follows Beck from his meager beginnings in early twentieth-century England to his harrowing first days in Canada...older teens and adults who appreciate literary historical fiction might find plenty to appreciate in this story of a hard-won discovery of redemption and home. —Booklist
This book tackles big issues: racism, sexual abuse by clergy members, poverty, and examines the effects of childhood trauma on developing adults. The plot is driven by Beck’s need for security and acceptance, and his traumatic past influences the brooding tone of the novel. A well-written work on a difficult topic, this book would be best introduced with a trigger warning. —School Library Connection
Some of the harshest episodes of Beck’s life are captured in passages of stunning grace, typical of the late Peet’s writing. —Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
Readers will feel Beck’s torture, both physical and emotional; they will experience his physical hardships but also rejoice when he discovers true love. Beck will be enjoyed by Peet’s fans, as well as lovers of historical fiction and adventure. —VOYA
From the very first pages it’s clear we are in the hands of a master storyteller (or two; as explained in an appended note, Rosoff finished the novel after Peet’s death). The vibrancy, earthiness, and originality of the prose is startling; the spot-on dialogue adds to the immediacy; secondary characters are vividly portrayed. There are no wasted words; no too-lengthy descriptive passages, yet somehow we see, smell, experience everything. —The Horn Book
Not since A Monster Calls, the novel Patrick Ness wrote based on a story idea from the late Siobhan Dowd, has a collaboration from two of my favorite authors felt so bittersweet. But Beck, Mal Peet’s posthumously published novel finished by his friend Meg Rosoff, comes close. —BookPage
Peet and Rosoff use such poignant and stark language...In the end, it's a love story; not about how two people fall in love, but how one person — despite hardship — can finally feel worthy and open enough to accept love. —Globe and Mail
The writing is to be savored in this life-affirming novel about the resilience of the human spirit. —Buffalo News
An epic story set in the 1920s and '30s for erudite, mature readers. —Boston Globe