I was prepared to dislike The Chalatan’s Boy by Jonathan Rogers. The loud yellow-and-red cover didn’t appeal to me and the publisher’s blurb on the back reminded me of Avi’s John-Newbery-Award-winning book, Crispin: The Cross of Lead. I enjoyed Crispin, and thought The Charlatan’s Boy would just be a knock-off.
I could not have been more wrong.
Both books follow boys (about 13 or 14) who don’t know their name or identity, but that’s where the similarities end.
Rogers creates an imaginary island, in which there are drovers, charlatans, villagers, farmers – all of which are fairly familiar – and feechies, although no one believes in feechies anymore.
For as long as he can remember, Grady has followed Floyd from village to village performing their “The Wild Man of the Feechiefen Swamp” routine. He longs to know who he is and where he came from, but the only person he can ask is Floyd, and Floyd is a ‘perfessional liar and a scoundrel,’ so he can’t believe anything Floyd tells him. Now, audiences no longer believe in feechies, and Floyd and Grady need to find a new ploy to squeeze money out of the villagers.
They try many different schemes, but none feel right to Grady, who longs to be an honest boy. He felt the most honest when playing the wild feechie, and reminisces one day with Floyd about the ‘good ol’ days.’ That conversation inspires Floyd to create a feechie scare so they can go back to their old feechie routine.
Of course, things don’t exactly work out the way he plans… and Floyd’s biggest betrayal leads to Grady’s greatest discovery.
Rogers paints a very sympathetic character in Grady – one for which I was cheering for throughout the book. I felt sad that Grady couldn’t bring himself to leave Floyd, the closest thing to a father he’d ever known, even when a better offer came along. But had he made a different choice, he wouldn’t have made his great discovery.
Readers learn some great lessons through Grady’s journey – our greatest hurt can bring about our greatest joy; just because we don’t feel loved doesn’t mean that we are not loved; and the importance of being true to yourself.
I read The Charlatan’s Boy because the publisher gave me a copy and wanted my opinion. I’ll keep The Charlatan’s Boy because it’s a great story my children will enjoy.