The Boy In The Book

boy in the bookPublished: 2014
Author: Nathan Penlington

An uncomfortable throw-back to childhood


I am a child of the 80s. We made our own fun back then – none of this X-box, Snapchat or Facebook malarkey. We had our own imaginations to keep us going. If that makes me sound like an old gimmer then fair enough, I probably am. Unsurprisingly most of my fun came from reading and for a time in the mid-80s I was fascinated by the “Choose your own adventure” stories. I loved how the story and the fate of the characters changed based on my decisions – turn to page 78 and everyone died, turn to page 79 and the hero succeeded. Then I moved on to Sweet Dreams love stories and forgot all about the excitement of choosing my own adventure. Nathan Penlington’s The Boy in the Book reminded me of the fun I had when I was much younger.

Penlington was obsessed by the books, much more so than I ever was. While I remember reading and enjoying the stories, the finer details of the books have been lost over the past three decades. Not so for Penlington whose love of the narrative has endured and led him to purchase the entire set of books on Ebay. Enclosed with the books were notes and diary entries from a previous owner – Terence Prendergast, a boy of Nathan’s age whose writing tells a story of a miserable and lonely childhood. Nathan embarks on a quest to discover how Terence has fared over the years and in doing so confronts his own past.

For readers of a certain age, The Boy in the Book, will strike a chord. For me, both Nathan Penlington and Terence Prendergast are contemporaries, growing up in the same era and reading the same books that I did and while our childhoods had nothing in common I still felt a connection with the two teenage boys – probably more than I did with the adults they became. Much as the book would appear to be about Terence’s childhood, it’s actually more about Nathan coming to terms with his own younger years which included illness, isolation and lost love. I did wonder a couple of times if I would have preferred to read a straightforward memoir. I also found myself feeling slightly uncomfortable at Nathan’s pursuit of Terence – stalking is far too strong a word but it can’t be completely rational behaviour to focus so intently on a complete stranger and their life. I finished the book not entirely convinced that I really liked Nathan, which was probably a prerequisite for complete enjoyment of The Boy in the Book.

I thoroughly enjoyed the concept of this book and it’s written in a compelling style. It reawakened some old memories of the books I loved as a kid and it was fascinating to find out more about the creator of the Choose Your Own Adventure stories. I wasn’t completely convinced by Nathan and his story of seeking out Terence though and wasn’t entirely satisfied by the book. It left me feeling a little empty and disappointed – quite the opposite emotion as the one created by the original, thrilling stories.

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