Scribner Books, March 14, 2017.
One of the Boys is narrated by an unnamed twelve-year-old boy, who is currently moving to New Mexico with his father and older brother. They have just been through a bitter custody battle, in which the boy was manipulated into accusing his mother of abuse – mostly physical, but also hints of sexual abuse as well. At first, readers might believe that the mother is to blame for losing her boys, but as time goes on, we realize that the father is a master manipulator, who treated the custody agreement as a war to be won.
As time passes in Albuquerque, the boys’ father reveals himself for what he truly is – an abusive alcoholic and drug addict. The older brother begins missing school to help dad with his paperwork so they can afford to pay rent, and the younger boy is woken up in the middle of the night by his father’s bouts of paranoia – he is told to “be my eyes”, and watch out the window for imaginary threats to the family.
Life with their father gets progressively worse for the boys, as he begins to bring home women and other unsavory characters, alternated with days spent locked in his bedroom with his addictions. He is erratic and violent, and increasingly abusive to the boys. It is difficult to read, but necessary in that it gives a voice to the many children that are in this situation, with no way to escape. It shows how easily childhood abuse can be hidden, but it is slowly revealed to us as the boy begins to figure out that his dad is not actually a hero with his sons’ best interests at heart – he is a dangerous addict who continually puts his own needs before those of his children.
The story is fast-paced, although nothing really happens – just a repeated view of the endless cycle of abuse. There is never a moment of peace, which makes it feel like being fully immersed in the boys’ experience. I do feel that the book is an awkward length – it would have been better as either a tightly-woven short story, or as a more fleshed-out novel. In any case, the novella manages to showcase the disturbing reality of child abuse, which is more common than we may think. The immediacy of the story made it seem like it may be based on the experiences of the author, but the fact that the characters are unnamed makes them universal – instead of individuals, they become simply “one of the boys.”
I received this book from Scribner Books and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.