Recovery in Media: #2. Belle Prater’s Boy

Belle Prater's Boy cover

A story of loss, identity, and new beginnings

2. Belle Prater’s Boy

As a young teenager, I somehow stumbled upon this book.  Because of my love of reading, people often gave me stacks of novels they no longer wanted.  As the years go by, I need more and more shelves to stock all of the books I have acquired.  Although I have no recollection of who gave me Belle Prater’s Boy, I remember my first time reading it vividly.  It made me cry but also gave me hope for the future.  Although written for a younger audience, I believe that adults and teenagers can both learn from and enjoy it.

Synopsis:  Woodrow, a strange but captivating young man, goes to live with his grandparents after his mother, Belle Prater, mysteriously vanishes.  The novel’s narrator, a beautiful but hurting girl named Gypsy, becomes his new neighbor.  The two sixth-grades bound as they talk through their pasts and the loss of a parent.  Slowly, both experience healing as they discover their identities apart from their parents, rumors, and labels.

Recovery Pluses:  Going through recovery is a bit like going through the identity-seeking part of young adulthood again.  You are unsure what you might find and can be excited, frightened, worried, confused, and/or angry.  This book skillfully portrays youths who have been forced to grow up to fast and have been labeled already by those around them.  Reading about how Woodrow and Gypsy search for who they truly want to be motivated me to do the same.

One of the labels that Gypsy needs to deal with is being beautiful.  No one ever comments on anything except for her looks.  Later on in the novel, we learn how traumatic and deep the wound of being good-looking is for her.  Gorgeous heroines are the norm, even in books.  However, it is unusual to find a leading female who longs to be seen as more than a pretty face and resents her own appearance.  This sends a wonderful message that not only is attractiveness overemphasized in our world, it brings problems of its own.

However the darkest yet most poignant aspect of Belle Prater’s Boy is the message on loss.  I won’t give away any spoilers but both Woodrow and Gypsy need to come to terms with being rejected, hurt, and forsaken by a parent.  This process is not easy or quick but it does eventually happen.  Bringing me to tears, this struggle for hope and desire for love was my favorite part of the novel.  Although I have not lost a parent, I could identify with the children’s and the parent’s confusion, despair, and bitterness.  Choosing a path different than their mother or father, Woodrow and Gypsy move toward healing and light.  Their determination to fight for a better life gave me courage to continue on my difficult but meaningful journey.

Cautions: Because of the elements of death and rejection, this book is probably too heavy for young children.  The way that Gypsy’s father dies is especially dark although not too graphic.  Also, there is a great deal of talk about looks because of Woodrow’s quirky appearance and Gypsy’s beautiful one.  However, both characters are more than their looks.

Overall, Belle Prater’s Boy is a emotional, hopeful, and enjoyable book.  Fairly short, it makes for an easy read that will make you think about life, your identity, and relationships.  Not only is it a Newbery Honor Book, this book won at least nine other awards from ALA Notable Book to Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year.  Thus, although it is not the most sophisticated or philosophical novel, it is interesting and inspiring if you give it a chance.

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