A coming-of-age standalone masterpiece.
Fantasy and sci-fi will always be my favorite genres to read. I’m not ashamed to say that I haven’t read a lot of novels outside SFF; mainly because I found the popular and the highly acclaimed non-SFF books to be mostly disappointing or just not satisfying enough. However, there will always be that rare occurrence where I pick up a random book outside of my favorite genre and realized that I have been transported by a magical portal. Boy’s Life was that kind of book; it grabbed my full attention since the prologue and it still dazzled me after I finished it.
Picture: Boy’s Life by David Ho
I’m almost 30 years old now and reading this book as an adult simply hit my feelings on all front. I was transported to my childhood for a while. Maybe I should’ve read this book when I was young to understand the importance of childhood and growing up; to appreciate the fleeting and short moment of that time.
“Don’t be in a hurry to grow up. Hold on to being a boy as long as you can, because once you lose that magic, you’re always begging to find it again.”
But I also know that I was just a boy. I know that I wouldn’t be able to appreciate how incredible and impactful this book if I’ve read it as a kid instead of now. Childhood to me is a period of time that shine the brightest in contemplation. Except for homework and exams, freedom was given in abundance, I just didn’t know it back then. It’s only through the telescope of adulthood, age, and restriction from the invisible chains of responsibilities; the gravitas and happiness understood only by the constant accumulation of experience and hardship. I have forgotten a lot of events from my childhood, some still stand out. The one that stands out was the simple things done in repetition. Sleeping over at friends’ or cousin’s house, learning and riding a bicycle, caring for your pets, being late to school, just the simple things. When we’re kids, we’re most likely to be protected by our parents from the burden and brutality of the world that exist; adulthood means we’re the one who does the protecting.
What’s the point of me saying all this? Here’s why. Boy’s Life made me lived that period of time while retaining the knowledge and experience I have accumulated to understand the importance and beauty of childhood. For ten hours, I was back to being a boy. The book was so beautifully written and the characters really get under my skin. Our eyes were lenses that reflected magic and wonder in everything we saw, we allowed our imagination to wonder and came up with an impossible situation that if we talk about it as an adult, we’ll most likely be called insane.
“Maybe crazy is what they call anybody who’s got magic in them after they’re no longer a child.”
Boy’s Life was published in 1991 and yet it still managed to resonate easily with me, a reader who read it for the first time in 2018. It has won many awards but it should’ve won more. I don’t know if this book can be classified as a classic but it should be. It’s a timeless lesson on life, death, hardship, racism, reality, appreciation, faith, and growing up.
“No one ever grows up. They may look grown-up, but it’s just the clay of time. Men and women are still children deep in their hearts.”
Magic, horror, mystery were evident but they’re not really the main focus of the book. The main driving force was the wonder of childhood that can be found in almost every paragraph. It was a beautifully well-told story full of poignancy; a classic and a new addition to one of my favorite standalone (that’s not part of a series) books of all time.
If you want to regain the forgotten magic in you, Boy’s Life is a magical portal that will transport you to the past even if you’re reading this for the first time. And if you’re still not sure about giving this book a go, I’ll close this review with a passage from the prologue. It’s a long one but if you find this passage heartwarming or lovely to read, trust me that it’s very probable that you will have a wonderful and magical time with this book.
“You know, I do believe in magic. I was born and raised in a magic time, in a magic town, among magicians. Oh, most everybody else didn’t realize we lived in that web of magic, connected by silver filaments of chance and circumstance. But I knew it all along. When I was twelve years old, the world was my magic lantern, and by its green spirit glow I saw the past, the present and into the future. You probably did too; you just don’t recall it. See, this is my opinion: we all start out knowing magic. We are born with whirlwinds, forest fires, and comets inside us. We are born able to sing to birds and read the clouds and see our destiny in grains of sand. But then we get the magic educated right out of our souls. We get it churched out, spanked out, washed out, and combed out. We get put on the straight and narrow and told to be responsible. Told to act our age. Told to grow up, for God’s sake. And you know why we were told that? Because the people doing the telling were afraid of our wildness and youth, and because the magic we knew made them ashamed and sad of what they’d allowed to wither in themselves.
After you go so far away from it, though, you can’t really get it back. You can have seconds of it. Just seconds of knowing and remembering. When people get weepy at movies, it’s because in that dark theater the golden pool of magic is touched, just briefly. Then they come out into the hard sun of logic and reason again and it dries up, and they’re left feeling a little heartsad and not knowing why. When a song stirs a memory, when motes of dust turning in a shaft of light takes your attention from the world, when you listen to a train passing on a track at night in the distance and wonder where it might be going, you step beyond who you are and where you are. For the briefest of instants, you have stepped into the magic realm.
That’s what I believe.
The truth of life is that every year we get farther away from the essence that is born within us. We get shouldered with burdens, some of them good, some of them not so good. Things happen to us. Loved ones die. People get in wrecks and get crippled. People lose their way, for one reason or another. It’s not hard to do, in this world of crazy mazes. Life itself does its best to take that memory of magic away from us. You don’t know it’s happening until one day you feel you’ve lost something but you’re not sure what it is. It’s like smiling at a pretty girl and she calls you “sir.” It just happens.
These memories of who I was and where I lived are important to me. They make up a large part of who I’m going to be when my journey winds down. I need the memory of magic if I am ever going to conjure magic again. I need to know and remember, and I want to tell you.”
Read this amazing book! That’s all.
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