Wednesday, March 15, 2017

One of the Boys by Daniel Magriel - Book Review

" I did not want him to hit me. I did not want him to have to hit me." - One of the Boys

Reading "One of the Boys" by Daniel Magriel is a lesson in the power of parental love over children. In 176 beautifully written pages, Magriel explores the vulnerability and limits of such a crucial relationship. Between drugs, divorce, and abuse the relationships between "the boys" in this novel are pushed to the limits. Overwhelming, shocking, and heartbreaking, " One of the Boys" explores how meaning and stability are defined in our relationships and within ourselves.

One of the Boys
by Daniel Magriel

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.
Set in the sublimely stark landscape of suburban New Mexico and a cramped apartment shut tight to the world, One of the Boys conveys with stunning prose and chilling clarity a young boy’s struggle to hold onto the dangerous pieces of his shattered family. Harrowing and beautiful, Daniel Magariel’s masterful debut is a story of survival: two foxhole-weary brothers banding together to protect each other from the father they once trusted, but no longer recognize. With the emotional core of A Little Life and the compact power of We the Animals, One of the Boys is among the most moving and remarkable debut novels you’ll ever read.

Well paced, quick read 

The action and character development start incredibly quickly in "One of the Boys". Hardly five minutes into reading, and I was already reeling from the emotions and dynamic between the characters. During one of the first scenes of the book, the father convinces the older brother to hit the younger so that they can falsify a report to the police that their mother was physically abusing them. It was shocking. Told from the perspective of the 12 year old brother, I was so concerned for the characters that i was immediately pulled into the story. And at only 176 pages, this book took me a little over two hours to read- this story is absolutely worth that time invested. I am incredibly impressed by the author, Daniel Magriel, and will not hesitate to read his future novels.

Deep psychological exploration

One of the most impressive aspects of this book for me was just how deeply the main character's emotions were explored and developed throughout the novel. I am so lucky as to have never experienced any of the neglect, emotional and physical abuse, or violence that the main character experiences every day, and so at times, novels portraying that type of abuse are difficult to connect with - this was absolutely not the case while reading " One of the Boys". It was equally fascinating and horrifying to watch as their father emotionally manipulated and then physically abused each of his sons. How he would pit them against each other and themselves to trick them into seeing the situation the way he needed them to see it. One of the most unsettling examples for me to read, was the manipulation directed towards their mother. The father is able to convince the boys that their mother deserves the abuse he gives her. He is able to trick them into thinking that what is happening is deserved, and from there his capacity for evil towards the boys and their mother is boundless.
" I understood my father's frustrations. I shared them. Never before though had he handled either of us boys so violently. Until now his brutality had been reserved for her." -One of the Boys
Reading this book, I felt constantly reminded how quickly children can be molded to a new norm and how that adaptability can be so easily manipulated for evil. For example, their father is able to make the boys believe that being completely neglected is normal, and they adapt- they get jobs, get themselves to school, and survive despite his neglect. He completely warps their expectations for love, so that after a bout of extreme physical or emotional abuse- they are just happy for the small kindnesses doled out afterwards. By the end of "One of the Boys", I was hugging my son a little tighter- and unsettled knowing that there are countless children living this reality.

Things I Struggled With

I really didn't run into very many issues reading " One of the Boys". At times, the father character did wear on me, though. Daniel Magriel, the author, did an excellent job creating someone evil, the kind of evil that unfortunately children experience all too frequently. Granted I know little to nothing about how the legal system works in child custody cases, I did wonder at times, given all of the information provided to us about the father, why these children would've been with him and not in the foster care system. We are told that their father has a history of drug abuse, and given that I am surprised that he would be given full custody. More explanation regarding that would've been helpful.

Have you read "One of the Boys"? Please let me know below what you thought of the book- I'd love to chat with you about it! Thinking about reading this book? Click here to find a copy at your local library or click below to view the book on Amazon.

Many thanks to Scribner for allowing me to read this book prior to publication. As a "girl about library", where books are always free, you can be sure that all opinions expressed are my own. Happy reading!


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