Summary: Martin O’Boy lives in a distracted family. With a twin named Phil who has emotional and physical problems, a pregnant mother and a father who throws tantrums on a regular basis, the most reliable family member Martin has is his cat, Cheap. Paid to be in the boys choir at church, Martin and his friend Billy encounter a man named Mr. George who appears to be their friend but has more sinister intentions. After Martin has a traumatic encounter with Mr. George and his family is oblivious, Martin turns to others for help to stop the same thing from happening to his friend Billy.
Number of Pages: 158
Age Range: 14-16
Review: Martin is a boy growing up during World War II, and his family situation means that after his beloved grandmother dies he has to fend for himself. His friend Billy is in a similar situation living with a single mother with a father known to be crazy.
Unfortunately as children thrust into adult roles, they are both vulnerable when Mr. George starts paying special attention to Martin, and then Billy. Thankfully, when Martin realises what is going on he finds an adult he knows will listen, and Buz, a neighbour recently back from the war, protects the boys when needed.
It’s a powerful and heart-wrenching read. I loved Brian Doyle’s exploration of living with a special needs sibling, and the responsibility that comes with being the ‘well’ sibling. The relationship between Martin and his cat, Cheap, was my favourite part of the book. Doyle brings such life into Cheap, and truly captures the unconditional love between a boy and his pet. I was glad Martin had someone who loved and listened to him, because pets can be the best, non judgemental listeners.
Plus, if you look at my Memorable Quotes section, you’ll read complete sections of Doyle’s book. He has a way of putting things that I just had to repeat. The boys listening to the pipe organ, and the scenes between Martin and Cheap. They are incredibly vivid and touching.
Mostly though, I though Martin was pretty brave. Even though he was confused and ashamed of what happened between him and Mr. George, he still did his best to protect his friend by asking for help. And because of the close-knit community he lived in, there were other places he could go for help besides his parents. I loved it.
“Soon Mr. George is down at the organ. You can see him sitting down there through the slats in the wall. Now tiny notes start coming out of the smallest pipes, the little whistles, lots of teeny, high notes running up and down like pretty water falls or teensy rain tinkling.
Now the bigger pipes start paying, like bugles and car horns and the factory whistle at the paper mill. And the noise in the nearly pitch dark room is starting to hurt our ears.
Now it gets louder, and the notes get lower now and the bigger pipes are blowing and sounding like bulls howling and trains whistling and I can see the shadows of the summer boys putting their hands over their ears. Now the biggest pipes start to pound and bellow and rumble like thunder and crash and roll and explode like earthquakes and volcanoes and the whole room is shaking and vibrating and shuddering and the low notes are coming up our legs and into our hearts and boiling into my brain until my whole body is shaking and I’m falling apart and the door cracks open and the room comes tumbling down behind us.
All of a sudden everything stops. The silence is ringing away.
I just stepped off a cliff into space.” – Martin from Boy O’Boy by Brian Doyle, pages 72-73
“I think Cheap wants to be a human, a person, instead of being just a cat. I think he’d like to do the things that I do. I think he’d like to sit at the kitchen table and eat snap crackle and pop with me and maybe when he’s half finished, reach over and pull the sugar bowl to him and put some extra sugar in his bowl.
And sometimes when he looks at Phil I think he’d like to tell Phil to quit ruining everything all the time.
And when my father boots the enamel basin, Cheap runs and hides but he peeks out almost right way – even before the basin has stopped rolling – and glares at my father as if to say, ‘Why are you acting like a common animal?’ – Martin from Boy O’Boy by Brian Doyle, page 94
“After a while I go down Cobourg and to my house at 3 Papineau. I stand at the door. I don’t want to cry. I’ll show my mother my knee but I won’t cry. I’ll tell her about fighting after choir. She’ll see my knee and take care of it.
I open the door. The door to the house where I don’t want to live.
Please, Somebody. Take care of me. Love me.” – Martin from Boy O’Boy by Brian Doyle, page 108
“‘He only cares about you because you’re the one who fees him,’ my father says, putting on his hat to go to work.
No, that’s not true. He loves me. I can tell when I talk to him and he closes his eyes. Squeezes them shut. Like he’s having a good time.
‘Cheap is a joke for a cat. As far as I’m concerned, this cat is just a waste of fur. And don’t feed him bacon. Bacon is expensive!’
My father slams out the door.
He doesn’t even notice my slashed knee.
Cheap is staring up at me.
I pick him up and he gives me a little purr.
‘You’re not a joke,’ I say to him and give him some more bacon.
‘And you’re not a waste of fur. Maybe somebody we know is a waste of skin! What do you think of that?’
Cheap agrees. – Conversation between Martin’s father, Martin and Cheap from Boy O’Boy by Brian Doyle, page 110
Boy O’Boy by Brian Doyle is published by Groundwood Books (2003).