I was browsing the Young Adult section at my local library the other day and a book by the name of Goodnight, Boy by Nikki Sheehan caught my eye. I knew nothing about this book, but the description on the back cover peaked my interest. The blurb is as follows:
A tale of two very different worlds, both shattered by the loss of loved ones. Tragic, comic and full of hope, thanks to a dog called Boy.
The kennel has been JC’s home ever since his new adoptive father locked him inside. For hours on end, JC sits and tells his dog Boy how he came to this country: his family; the orphanage and the Haitian earthquake that swept everything away.
When his adoptive mother Melanie rescues him, life starts to feel normal again. Until JC does something bad, something that upset his new father so much that he and Boy are banished to the kennel. But as his new father gets sicker, JC realizes they have to find a way out. And so begins a stunning story of a boy, a dog and their journey to freedom.
Living in the Kennel
The entire story takes place in a kennel where a teenage boy named JC has been locked in along with his dog (Boy) by his stepfather. The entire story revolves around JC’s storytelling as he recounts his life story to his dog, Boy. The author’s use of internal dialog was expertly done and really added a distinctive element to the story.
We learn bit by bit that JC is an immigrant boy from Haiti who has gone through one horrendous experience after another: abuse at orphanages, surviving an earthquake and living on the streets to name a few. We learn through JC’s dialog what a tough, resilient and brave kid he really is, and it’s these qualities that allowed him to overcome every difficulty he’s had to face.
Enter Melanie and The Stepfather
JC’s tells Boy about how he ended up in the United States with Melanie and her boyfriend or husband (I don’t believe their marital status is ever mentioned). We figure out pretty quickly that the “adoption” wasn’t an entirely legal one, meaning Melanie and her partner pretty much snuck the boy into the United State.
JC depicts Melanie in a positive light, and we can tell that he is quite fond of her. Not so much with the stepfather, however; though JC’s dialog, we get the impression that the stepfather resented the boy and made everyday life more difficult for him because of that resentment.
I did a bad thing
We eventually learn the reason how JC and Boy ended up in their current predicament. According to JC, he did a bad thing that upset his stepfather so much at the locked JC and Boy away in a Kennel (we do learn what the bad thing is – but I’m not telling!).
Melanie is away during this time so she’s unaware of what’s going on at home. JC’s stepfather visits the kennel with less and less frequency, and JC realizes that he has to somehow get him and Boy to freedom, as their life may very well depend on it.
I wasn’t sure at first whether this was the kind of story I wanted to read. It sounded heartbreaking and indeed, in places it was. But it was also so much more. Though the reader experiences a rollercoaster of emotions as we move through the story, it is also hopeful. No matter what horrors JC experiences, he never seems to get depressed or wallows in despair or self-pity.
It’s interesting to note that there was almost no dialog throughout the entire story — all of it was portrayed through JC’s thoughts and one-way discourse to Boy. In this way, the author did an amazing job of portraying JC’s excellent character voice.
The lack of two-way dialog didn’t mean that the book was difficult to read. On the contrary, the author’s clever use of white space (some pages only contained a couple of sentences) made the book not only readable but added extra intrigue and emotion that kept you turning the page.
Yes, as a reader you are shocked at the beginning by the horrifying conditions that the boy and his dog are living in, and you certainly can’t help but tear up many times throughout the book. It’s sad. It’ll tear your heart out in places. But Goodnight, Boy is also a beautiful, moving and hopeful story of an abused boy, his dog and their journey towards freedom. It’s a deep, engaging and original book that kept me interested all the way through, and I’m so glad I read it. Recommended!
Trigger warning: This book contains scenes of child and animal abuse and neglect.
You can check out Goodnight, Boy HERE