Mal Peet--British author of the Carnegie Medal-winning Tamar and The Murdstone Trilogy--died in 2015 before he could finish his YA/adult novel Beck. Printz-winning author Meg Rosoff (How I Live Now) completed Peet's novel, but says, "Beck is Mal's book. Like all his work, it's bold and compassionate, unsparing, moving, and joyously, mordantly funny."

On her deathbed in Liverpool in 1918, Beck's mother squeezes her hazel-eyed, brown-skinned son's hand, unaware of the brutal life he'd face. After years in a "dire and loveless" Catholic orphanage, Beck is shipped to a Christian Brotherhood home in Montreal. There, the mixed-race boy the priests disturbingly nickname "Chocolat" is locked in a room with the lascivious, pink-eyed, naked-in-a-bathtub Brother Robert, then caned--and much worse--for violently resisting him. Beck is sent off to work on a remote Ontario farm as slave labor. Bleak, yes, but young adults are likely to see a gleam of hope in the fierce, brave boy who won't let himself be whipped twice. "I fookin' hate 'em," he tells the Home Boys' Society inspector, before fleeing again.

Heading south to the Detroit River, Beck lands in the home of a Prohibition-era bootlegger and his girlfriend, a black couple who, finally, give the young man "the tiniest inkling of the faintest possibility of a life that wasn't simply one hell followed by another...." Down the road, he encounters a half-Scottish, half Siksika (Blackfoot) woman named Grace McAllister, who also makes him feel that "faint possibility"--and much more. Whether a hardened heart can--or should--leave itself vulnerable to love is brilliantly explored in this powerful, beautifully written coming-of-age odyssey. --Karin Snelson, freelance writer and editor

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