26 Oct / Prison Boy by Sharon E. McKay
Canadian writer Sharon E. McKay is no stranger to children and war; her numerous books that have highlighted the horrendous effects of adult conflict on the world’s youngest citizens have garnered international attention via lauds and awards. Her latest, “endorsed by Amnesty International Canada,” as noted on the back cover, takes on the heinous practice of torture.
As McKay explains in her “Author’s Note,” torture “still occurs in one hundred and forty-one countries” in spite of the 30-year-old United Nations Convention Against Torture. Beyond disregarding laws, here humanity is utterly lost when children become the victims of unforgivable injustice.
In an unnamed country overrun by political corruption and chaos, English ex-pat Bell has assembled a family-of-sorts: in her ramshackle home, she cares for the children no one else wants. The oldest boy is Pax, named for Bell’s father Paxton, but the abbreviated single syllable is more fitting as a prayer for peace. Pax is a gentle caregiver, especially devoted to Kai, a sickly infant who is thoughtlessly abandoned on the verge of death.
Five years later, cancer claims Bell. The children are taken to a “facility,” while special provisions have been made for Kai who not only survives, but proves to be gifted. Feeling angry and betrayed, Pax cannot bear the thought of separation, and chooses instead to go on the run. Pax does all he can to support the pair – but he’s still just a boy, and eventually he is manipulated into a heinous act of unintended, unknown violence that lands him in prison. Through the kindness of strangers, his story of selfless devotion and unconditional love survives.
Prison Boy might not be a perfect novel – the great-white-savior-in-a-troubled-country model is always problematic, the “Goddess Girl” sequences, albeit understandable, still seem disjointed, the coincidences are a little too convenient – but it is an effective, haunting story that deserves to be widely read. As we bear witness, McKay’s opening epigraph from Edmund Burke will continue to resonate long after the final page: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Now that you know, “[d]on’t look away,” McKay exhorts at book’s end. “We have the power to stop this,” she insists. Indeed, you can begin your journey right here.
Readers: Young Adult