For as long as he can remember, the orphan Grady has traveled from village to village as a partner in Floyd’s hoaxes and schemes.In each town they visit, “Perfessor Floyd Wendellson, collector of the rare and the beautiful” charges audiences one copper coin to hear a lecture and see his latest exhibit.Grady is the star of Floyd’s “Ugliest Boy in the World” act, his assistant in a personality-reading scheme, and an excellent Panther Paste and Cure-All salesman.
But Grady misses the days when he performed as the “Wild Man of the Great Feechiefen Swamp.” Entire villages would come to hear Floyd lecture on the habits of feechies, and see Grady’s performance as a real-live he-feechie. Grady played the part of a feechie for so long that he was convinced that he was one. After all, as Grady reasoned, “‘Wild Man of the Feechiefen Swamp’ is a heap better than ‘ugly boy whose mama didn’t want him.’”
Now, Grady is twelve years old, and folks don’t believe in feechies anymore. Floyd and Grady never discover a scheme as lucrative or as exciting as the feechie act, and both long for a return of the good old days. >When Floyd launches a grand scheme to revive the old feechie tales, Grady is his willing partner. The Great Feechie Scare is a success -- until it goes far beyond the control of either Floyd or Grady.
The Charlatan’s Boy is a charming and entertaining story, full of engaging characters, creative plot details, and witty dialogue. The reader can’t help but sympathize with Grady, who is lonely, unwanted, and conflicted as he comes of age. Through the character of Grady, author Jonathan Rogers addresses questions and struggles that many real teens will also experience.
One theme that is treated particularly well in this book is the theme of truth and honesty. Floyd is clearly a fraud and a liar, and Grady recognizes the problems inherent in such a lifestyle. Grady realizes that Floyd’s constant deception of others means that he cannot be trusted even by his friends.As the charlatan’s boy, Grady often participates in Floyd’s dishonesty, but he is uncomfortable doing so and frequently wrestles with the integrity of his actions. “So here’s what I’d like to know,” Grady muses. “If a feller feels honest, if he wants to be honest but he don’t get much chance to talk honest or act honest, is he a honest feller or not?”
Perhaps the most important theme in The Charlatan’s Boy is the theme of identity.The entire plot revolves around Grady’s search for identity, a search will surely resonate with many teenagers. Grady has been lied to for so much of his life that he has no idea who he truly is. He realizes, “I only know one man who might be able to tell me where I come from, and that man is a liar and a fraud.”
While the search for identity is a theme that often appears in young adult fiction, Rogers gives a unique and helpful spin on this idea. The Charlatan’s Boy underscores the important principle that one’s identity consists of one’s actions. Grady realizes that his decisions regarding truthfulness, friendliness, and courage shape who he is as a person. In searching for his identity, Grady attempts to act like the person he wants to be, and not the person Floyd has taught him to be. Grady’s search reaches an exciting resolution in the final pages of the book.
Overall, The Charlatan’s Boy is an entertaining and wholesome read that manages to impart some important lessons for preteens and teenagers.
[Ed. note: The Charlatan's Boy was a finalist for the 2011 Christy Award for Young Adult fiction. Look for reviews of fellow finalist The Healer's Apprentice by Melanie Dickerson, and of the winner, Motorcycles, Sushi, and One Strange Book by Nancy Rue, coming soon!]
Marissa Krmpotich is a writer and student in Northern Virginia.
Image copyright WaterBrook Press. Review copy supplied by the publisher.
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