Monday, October 10, 2016

Book Review: "One of the Boys" by Daniel Magariel

Particularly when we're young, we'd do anything if we thought it would make our parents happy. For the 12-year-old narrator of Daniel Magariel's bleak, tremendously affecting novel One of the Boys, that means siding with his father and older brother in their parents' bitter divorce, even if he needs to embellish the truth a bit to make his mother look more dangerous.

"This is your brother for life. You are his last line of defense."

After they've been able to emerge victorious from "the war," their father's term for the divorce, they leave their Kansas home and drive to Albuquerque. The prospect of a new life, just the three of them, is an exciting one. But as they start to get immersed in their new routines, making friends, and, in the case of the older brother, excelling at sports, things start to change. Their father's moods become more erratic. Although he is ostensibly working from home, he doesn't seem to be working much, instead spending hours, even days locked in his room. And his cigars don't hide the chemical smell that permeates their cramped apartment.

The boys are unsure of what to do, whether they made the right decision to ally with their father. He starts to become paranoid, starts coming and going at odd hours, disappearing at times and leaving the boys with no money; at other times there are other strange people in the house with him. While at times he rebounds and acts like the father they remember, more often than not he lashes out, trying to turn brother against brother in a test of loyalty to him.

Does their father really have their best interests at heart, as he says he does? Should they continue to trust him, or should they try to go back to Kansas and be with their mother? Will she understand what happened during the divorce? And how bad will this get?

One of the Boys packs a real punch, accurately conveying the hurt, fear, and hope that these boys feel as they realize they're stuck in the middle of a battle much larger than themselves. What do you do when the person who says they love you, who convinces you you're better off with them, turns out not to be what they say they are? This is a bleak but well-written book with a tremendous amount of tension, as you don't know what's going to happen and who will break first.

This book is troubling, perhaps even more so when you realize there are children trapped in these same battles all over the world. Magariel has tremendous storytelling talent, and it's amazing that he was able to create such sympathetic characters without giving them names. I look forward to seeing what comes next in his career.

NetGalley and Scribner provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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