Belle Prater’s Boy is just the kind of book I love–beautifully written, moving, and full of thoughtful conclusions. It’s 1953 and Gypsy’s Aunt Belle has disappeared without a trace. Her cousin, Woodrow, comes to live in Granny and Grandpa Ball’s house right next door. He looks rough, with his hand-me-down mining clothes and his crossed eyes, but the town finds that outward appearances don’t make the boy. Gypsy, on the other hand, is as beautiful as her mother, but no one ever sees the individual beneath the golden curls.
Nobody knows what happened to Aunt Belle, but Woodrow has some secrets he’s told no one but Gypsy. Together, they sort through family history and build a picture of a woman who never accepted herself. A woman who wanted to be invisible. Understanding his mother’s hurt, Woodrow is able to come to terms with her abandonment.
Gypsy has scars of her own. She’s always hated her stepdad, Porter, not because he’s cruel, but because he’s not her father. But who is she really mad at? Digging through the past uncovers memories Gypsy would rather leave buried, yet with Woodrow’s help, she finally faces her skeletons.
Themes of beauty, individuality, and value weave in and out of the pages of this Newbery honor book and tie together in some important scenes. When Gypsy mourns that no one sees her for who she is, Porter tells her, “You’re a fine person in your own right. Nobody can outshine you if you can just be yourself. Belle never learned that, and it caused her a lot of grief… She actually vanished years ago, when she was about your age. Now she is out there trying to find herself again.”
And in another crystal ball scene, Gypsy grieves her father’s death and cries to her mother: “Why did he do it? Why?” Her mother answers, “He was in a deep depression. He couldn’t accept his disfigurement. Do you remember that?” To which Belle replies, “I remember he had scars after the fire, but he was my daddy. I loved him and always saw him as handsome and wonderful.” Deep, powerful stuff with a myriad of lessons in it.
And in a sweet, sort of wrap-up commentary, Woodrow writes in his English assignment, “…it is my belief that Blind Benny, even with his poor sightless eyes, is the only person I know who sees with perfect clarity. Because Benny is able to see beyond appearance.”
Belle Prater’s Boy does get a little sappy in places, but it delivers a great story and an even better message. I give it a very high recommendation.