The cover for this debut novel only hints at a story about to unfold. The first few chapters reveal most of what we see here. Benji, an eleven year old boy, waits for his mother to return as he looks out across 1839 London. A crutch is nearby to help the boy walk. His face “crooked and ugly” is a face that most people can’t look at for long. There is also a night sky and a small image of a dragon. They too will be a part of the story.
I followed Benji for three chapters when along comes chapter four and a different story about a famous fifteen-year-old, Lord Thomas. I sensed the two stories would eventually be one and I was right. What I wasn’t prepared for was the physical and emotional abuse Benji goes through after being abandoned. I had to step away and do a little research of my own. What was it like for children in nineteenth century London? How much fact had been woven into Benji’s story? It would seem an awful lot. Source after source told of the abuse many children endured. An example (from one scholarly study – THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CHILD ABUSE by Clark, Clark, and Adamec):
In 19th century England and North America children were treated in much the same way as farm animals. They could be placed in servitude, beaten and, if they consistently disobeyed, even killed by their parents.
So I returned to IMAGINARY BOY and I’m glad for the experience. I would reserve this tale for upper middle grade with the truly frightening scenes. No sexual abuse but plenty of beatings and attempts to rip away Benji’s self worth. He is just a boy with an angel like singing voice searching for the hero in his father’s unfinished story. By the last page you’ll discover the true hero and maybe smile like I did.
PUBLICATION DATE: 2015 PAGE COUNT: 186
FULL PLOT : Eleven-year-old Benji Saintaubin dreams of becoming a hero like the ones in the books he reads while banished in the dark attic of his family home. But those heroes are all strong and handsome, not like Benji who uses a crutch and hides his disfigured face. When his father dies, leaving behind an unfinished story about an imaginary boy who must defeat a cruel and mighty dragon, Benji’s safe and secluded world is turned upside down.
After venturing out of the attic and onto the perilous streets of 19th century London, Benji finds himself separated from his mother in a frightening and unfamiliar world. Nearly trampled to death and sold into slavery, Benji comes to believe his father’s story may be more fact than fiction after his captor reveals a dragon-tail tattoo around his arm and plans that could destroy Benji. If he ever hopes to escape, be reunited with his mother and finish his father’s cryptic story, Benji must trust that a crippled boy can discover the unseen power needed to defeat a brutal and powerful dragon.Join Benji on his treacherous journey in this compelling, edgy and inspiring middle-grade novel by debut author Mark Eldrich.
FIVE THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT: IMAGINARY BOY by Mark Eldrich
- A compelling story is one where the urge for a reader is to skip to the last page to find out how things turned out. I didn’t do that but I was turning the pages fast to find out if Benji would survive his ordeal.
- Short chapters move the story forward at a perfect pace. This is one author to keep an eye out for as future works become available.
- I’ve read many books this past year that fail to tidy things up by the last page. I’m referring to plot points that leave a reader hanging. This one is handed to you wrapped and completed.
- The cast of characters, both good and bad, are compelling and fully formed. I especially enjoyed Brother Lucas, Mr. Krum, Eve, and Thomas.
- The setting was a superb choice for Benji’s story. Enticing and scary at every turn.
He scanned the crowd, looking for a blue dress, his brow furrowed in worry. Panic began to build inside him. Maybe Mother had forgotten where he was. He couldn’t breathe. Seconds turned into minutes and still he waited. Maybe … wait … there! Through the crowd he spotted a blue dress and white hat.
“Mother!” he cried. “Mother, I’m here!”
AUTHOR BIO: Mark Eldrich began writing at the age of thirteen with his entry in a local poetry contest called the The Write Stuff, where he was named a finalist. The former youth pastor and current left-handed guitar player resides in the Midwest with his wife and two sons. He works full time at the Illinois State Library Talking Book and Braille Service. When he isn’t at the library or playing with his boys, you will find him at home writing stories. His next middle-grade novel, The Shaming Tree, is due out in 2017. To learn more, click here for Mark’s website.
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Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.