In both The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard* and Boo by Neil Smith* a young boy confronts death and deals with impossible circumstances. In Shepard’s novel the situation is based on real history of what happened during the Holocaust, while Smith’s imagines an unknown reality of what might happen after death. Both stories tackle extremely emotional situations with eloquence but neither left quite the impact I expected.
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The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard tells a story of the Holocaust through the eyes of a young Polish boy, working with his friends to smuggle contraband in the ghetto. Aron ends up in a Warsaw orphanage, and this is the story of how he got there, and what happens afterwards. It’s a heartbreaking story based on true events, but because Aron doesn’t know what’s coming, there’s a sense of innocence to it and you almost believe things can end differently than they do.
Shepard’s writing is very simple and straightforward, and it is a story with a lot of actions rather than one that is heavy on the internal emotion. In some ways, I felt like this kept me at a distance. The Book of Aron is a short novel, but it is the heaviness of the story perhaps that makes it feel longer. I found it is especially slow-moving in the second half, when the story switches from Aron to a heavier focus on Korczak, who runs the orphanage.
Ultimately, The Book of Aron is a sad, sparse story but despite the horrific events covered within its pages, I did not have a real, profound emotional connection to Shepard’s novel, likely because of the distance I felt from the narrator.
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Boo by Neil Smith begins when Oliver “Boo” Dalrymple wakes up in a heaven filled entirely with other American thirteen-year-olds. He assumes he’s died due to a heart defect, but when another kid from his school, Johnny, shows up he realizes he was murdered in a school shooting. The two of them set out to find the “Gunboy” who killed them.
Although Smith’s version of Heaven has its own set of rules, they are all pretty strange and it’s definitely a place where you have to suspend a little bit of disbelief to appreciate the story. I think that the plot and story is really creative, but I had a very hard time getting into the book. The unique setting was one I had a hard time connecting to, but ultimately Boo is really a story about the characters. Unfortunately, I also had a hard time connecting to the characters.
I can appreciate the story that Smith was trying to tell, but as much as I found the premise interesting, the actual execution (no pun intended) was often forced, boring and predictable for me. The writing in Boo is excellent, and there are some more meaningful insights, but it’s honestly one of those books I kept reading because it wasn’t that long, but by the end, it felt a lot longer than it had been. Smith’s first book was a collection of stories, and I think I would appreciate his writing more in that format, however Boo has a lot of rave reviews, so if the premise intrigues you, it’s probably still worth a try.
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What have you been reading lately? Does The Book of Aron or Boo sound like a book you would pick up? Let me know!