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Every kid has, at some point, wished for nothing more than to fit in. This is just the case with Boy, a young hunchback boy living in 1350, the year declared as a Holy Year by the pope of Rome. Boy is used to being an outcast from society - for no more reason than the lump on his back. He is daily called a monster, a fiend, or a devil’s companion, and accepts this as part of his identity. Father Petrus, the priest who christened him “Boy”, taught him the rules of life and ways to hide his differences. The Father is an important person in Boy’s vague, mysterious past.

Boy has his own private life inside the bubble of loneliness that he is set in by everyone else. He is not completely alone, however, because he has the power of talking to animals. They accept Boy, for what animal would care whether a human stands straight or crooked when judging him for a companion?

One chilly March day, a cloaked pilgrim shows up near Boy’s home. Impressed with the hunchback’s climbing and jumping abilities, he recruits Boy as a servant on a strange quest. The pilgrim, named Secundus, pulls Boy into a journey across Europe to collect seven valuable relics of Saint Peter - a rib, tooth, thumb, shin, dust, skull, and tomb. The pack in which Boy carries the relics hides his hump – so for the first time, he is treated normally. With great pleasure, he tells jokes to a brown-eyed girl and shares his joy with hounds on the street.

Secundus and Boy journey from one holy spot to another. Tales of cripples dancing away from the shrine, dead babies coming to life, and sudden cures of incurable diseases pervade the minds of hopeful pilgrims around them. As the pair move, Boy begins to discover astonishing things about himself and his companion. Through the fast-paced, gripping action, tiny clues have been adding up. They finally point to the idea that Boy’s hump may not be a lump of evil, but a ball of divinity waiting to unfold its wings. And as for Secundus and his motives in collecting the relics – it is possible that he is the true fiend, though his body is not disfigured in any way. Bit by bit, Boy discovers just how far the magic of his hump extends; and realizes that if he keeps a confident smile on his face, he can do what he always wished to do – help people – without being labeled as either an angel or a monster. And with this, he fulfills his wish of being treated normally while staying the same person that he always was.

I think that this book, though told in a medieval setting, really applies to modern day. Everyone is different. Although most kids have been told this many times, we still tend to single out the people who are very tall, very short, who have learning problems, who look different. We look at someone and judge them, forgetting hidden under everybody’s metaphorical disfigurement, there is a mind that thinks and feels just like we do. Everyone has, at some point, felt that they don’t fit into the norm. It’s hard to realize that our differences might actually be assets. When you are singled out or made fun of, it’s difficult to put a smile on your face and show the world that you may be different, but you have your own special powers. When you do, however, you are given wings for your personality to fly free.

The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock. Harper Collins, 2018. Buy the book here and support Children's Art Foundation-Stone Soup in the process!

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