Evelyn is both aghast and fascinated when a new boy comes to grade five and tells everyone his name is Queen. Queen wears shiny gym shorts and wants to organize a chess/environment club. His father plays weird loud music and has tattoos.
Evelyn is an only child with a strict routine and an even stricter mother. When it turns out that they take the same route home from school, Evelyn and Queen become friends, almost against Evelyn’s better judgment.
With a starred, high-praise review from Kirkus, I could not wait to read Canadian author Sara Cassidy’s intriguingly described A Boy Named Queen. At under one-hundred pages, A Boy Named Queen is indeed on the shorter side of a children’s fiction title; however, it is a read packed with more than a tome’s worth of perception, surprise, beautiful main characters, and out of the ordinary writing.
A story at its core about confidence, self-acceptance, and friendship, A Boy Named Queen is incisive and wonderfully unexpected. We meet one of our key characters, Evelyn, as she prepares for start of grade five. She is out with her always ‘on top of things’ mother, shopping for a new pair of appropriate shoes. To Evelyn’s wonderful surprise and almost-shock, she is allowed to choose a pair of lace-up blue runners- the kind of shoe, Evelyn thinks, that she might actually be able to play field hockey in! From only a brief introduction to Evelyn and her mother, readers understand that Evelyn has been raised to be tidy, uncomplicated, organized- just like her parents and their lives have been molded to fit perfectly well into the other standard two-bedroom brown houses that line their street. Upon her first day in grade five with Mr. Zhang, however, a new student named Queen upends a few things in Evelyn’s life. Introduced by the school secretary with an emphatic and telling this new student is a a boy, Queen meets the class of Hillsberry Elementary and Evelyn in his torn jeans, pink shirt and shiny brogues.
Immediately catching the notice of a few students who start needling, bullying and teasing Queen for his name, attire (and perhaps, just because), Evelyn tries to make Queen feel more welcome. When Queen and Evelyn begin their friendship, she finds herself surprised- and initially irritated- by how Queen deals with the taunting and awfulness of some classmates. Wouldn’t things just be easier if Queen tried to blend in more? Why does Queen put himself out on the line and make himself so visible, such a target? Why can’t he just change his clothes and make things easier for himself? As Queen explains his ways of deflecting the world’s badness and only allowing goodness to come in- like a force field, he explains- Evelyn recognizes just how deep Queen’s utter kindness and humour goes. Evelyn herself then begins an almost-imperceptible but major shift in her self-confidence and contact with the world over the course of two events: firstly attending Queen’s almost otherworldly birthday dinner with his parents, and secondly, surprising just about everyone (but mostly herself) with an unusual-for-Evelyn show-and-tell.
Overall, Sara Cassidy’s A Boy Named Queen is, quite simply, flawless. Profound, rich, and written immaculately- refined yet so expressive, with not a word or breath wasted- this is a standout piece in children’s lit (and another gorgeous entry into Canadian lit). Any readers who appreciate or crave something a little unusual, potent and beautifully written might do very well to give A Boy Named Queen a read.
I received a copy of this title courtesy of Groundwood Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.