Beck is Carnegie Medal winning author Mal Peet’s final novel, completed posthumously by his friend and fellow author Meg Rosoff (best known for her novel turned movie How I live Now). A historical fiction set in the great depression, it follows the titular character Beck, a young mixed-race orphan from Britain, who is shipped off to Canada as part of the Empire’s sponsored immigration drive. It’s a hard knock life from frying pan into the fire, but Beck is a fighter who takes matters into his own hands, eventually finding peace with another unlikely outsider.
Peet became an author later in life and has written prolifically for adults and teenagers, as well as co-writing books for younger readers with his wife Elspeth Graham-Peet; however, Beck falls into neither camp comfortably. It has the appearance of a YA novel (concise, with generously spaced text), but it does not shy away from ‘adult’ subject matter (like Beck’s sexual abuse at the hands of the Christian Brothers). In this respect, Beck is not an easy read. The language is as brutally visceral as it is often poetic, and Beck’s world can be bleak and unforgiving.
While celebrating Peet’s creativity to create something that can’t quite be pigeon-holed, Rosoff describes the book as ‘part coming-of-age novel, part romance, part historical drama’ that is ‘not entirely for young adults.’ That said, even with the authors’ prestigious reputation I do wonder if this novel will struggle to find an audience.