One of the Boys - Daniel Magariel

The three of them—a twelve-year-old boy, his older brother, their father—have won the war: the father’s term for his bitter divorce and custody battle. They leave their Kansas home and drive through the night to Albuquerque, eager to begin again, united by the thrilling possibility of carving out a new life together. The boys go to school, join basketball teams, make friends. Meanwhile their father works from home, smoking cheap cigars to hide another smell. But soon the little missteps—the dead-eyed absentmindedness, the late night noises, the comings and goings of increasingly odd characters—become sinister, and the boys find themselves watching their father change, grow erratic, then violent.

This is a tough book to read. I need to make that clear straight away. This is where I put a trigger warning and note: child abuse, drug use, psychological trauma, death threats. If these are issues that will trigger you, then it is a good idea to let this one past.

THAT BEING SAID, the book is incredibly well written, smart, and truly gets to the heart of the emotional trauma that can and often does occur in cases of parental drug abuse and divorce between psychologically troubled adults. The young boys (they are given no names in the narrative, and why would they? Their parents have both abandoned them, in most senses) are the focus of the book, trying to come to terms with how they manipulated social services to "escape" from their mother, only to realize that their father is far less stable and on-their-side than they originally thought.

Things escalate exponentially throughout the course of the book. The boys are put into greater and greater danger at home as their father sinks further and further into himself (he drinks more, does more drugs, and becomes uncontrollably violent). The older boy is forced to start stealing food from his work and the younger boy is eventually imprisoned at home and forced to carry out his father's drug deals, only to end up beaten and traumatized when his father becomes forgetful about how much money he has spent.

There is no happy ending. This is not a book with a "moral" or a "lesson" at the conclusion. This is real life here on these pages. And young people go through some shit! Would I say this is a YA novel? Perhaps, for the more mature teen reader. This is what I would more call an adult novel with YA appeal. This is an example of "just because it's got teens as the focus doesn't mean it's a YA book" (see the controversy around When Everything Feels Like the Movies).

Conclusion: This is an incredible book. I definitely Recommend this book to adults and discerning teens. Would I give this to a teen going through a lot of shit in their own life? Probably not, but that doesn't diminish it's strong writing and it's well-paced narrative.


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