One of the reasons that I hated reading as a child was because the books that I had access to were cutesy. They didn’t deal with real-life issues. I think I would have loved this book when I was a preteen. It’s definitely a mature and realistic middlegrade novel.
The Silent Boy is a historical fiction story set in the early 1900s. Nine-year-old Katy befriends a teenager, Jacob, who is unable to speak, make eye contact, or attend school. Everyone assumes that Jacob is stupid, but Katy knows that he’s just different. One night, something goes horribly wrong, and Jacob gets the blame. Only Katy understands that he didn’t mean to hurt anyone. He was just trying to help.
This book provides an unflinching look at how mentally disabled people used to be treated. Jacob probably has autism, but nobody knows that. The characters aren’t sure how to react to him and his unusual behaviors. I love that Katy tries so hard to empathize with Jacob. She treats him like a friend and wants to know what is going on inside his head.
I also really like the scenes of Katy with her family. I know that big happy families are fashionable in YA/MG literature right now, but I think the “happy family” scenes in books often feel forced and unrealistic. Katy’s relationships with her parents and the hired staff in her house are very natural. I especially like Katy’s strong bond with her father. He encourages her to be kind to Jacob and helps her understand his odd behaviors.
My biggest criticism of this book is its pacing. It’s extremely slow. Some young readers would probably get bored with it. All of the action happens in the last 20 pages. I wish the ending had happened much earlier and we got to see more of the aftermath.
This book does not have a happy ending because mentally disabled people were not treated well during this period of history, but I think this would be a great book for a parent and mature child to read together. It would provide a lot of topics for discussion.