Silent Boy - Torey Hayden
(Previously published as 'Murphey's Boy')
Hunting around a discount book store, I came across 'Silent Boy' by Torey Hayden. I had never heard of this author before and found the write up very intreaging so decided to give it a go, and the price of only 75p compared to the RRP of £6.99 helped make my decision to buy it!
"He was a frightened boy who refused to speak until a teacher's love broke through the silence..."
Torey Hayden writes her books from her own personal experience, which when knowing this made the book come to life. Knowing that this story actually happened made it more powerful and I was able to look past the few flaws I came across when reading. In this particular book, Torey meets fifteen year old Kevin who is desperately afraid of the world around him and due to this had not spoken a word for eight years. Not only this, he earned the nickname of 'zoo boy' due to the peculiar way he protected himself; by barricading himself under tables, surrounded by chairs. Kevin had been in institutions for the most of his life and deemed hopeless and incurable by those around him though Hayden refused to believe this yet even she knew it needed a miracle to break through to the boy.
The book is written in three parts, all of which run on from one another with small gaps in the timeline between them. Although not completely necessary to do this, it actually works out really well in the story and makes the transition of time easier to follow. I was going to write this review in three parts corresponding to the story, yet after more consideration I feel that even with the three parts, it still reads as one complete story and therefore I feel it best to write the review as one complete analysis.
My first opinion of the book was that it read rather like a journal. There are no dates or diary entries as such, yet the information included has the slight feeling of the author's thoughts being written down as they happen. This does not only cover the immediate story concerning Kevin, though, it also covers Hayden's personal thoughts and life story as it happens alongside Kevin's. Without the rest of the story, the book would have simply been a journal in my opinion, though with the added extra of Hayden's life, it pads out the story nicely and actually makes it into a story not just a journal of events.
It did not take me too long to get into the story. At first, there was a lot of information to set the scene, most of which fit well though there were many parts, (which continued through the book), in which I thought were too involved and not really needed. At times I found myself skimming over long drawn out descriptive parts and never found myself lost or confused which highlighted the fact to me that these long descriptions were not entirely needed. Once I became more accustomed to the writing style, though, I found the flow and readability quite simple and easy to read without having to think too much. I had expected a lot of complicated words and phrases which are often used in books with doctors and such, though thankfully these were few and far between in the story.
One thing that I want to note here, although a small thing, is the grammer in this story. To many people this may not stand out at all, though at times through this book for me, I found it a little off-putting. I am not sure if it is a simple typing mistake that reoccurs or whether the authors grammer is simply not as polished as I am used to reading, though there are many times where sentences fail to read right or words seem to fall the wrong way around and I have to read the sentences a few times to make sense of it. As I said, this is a small thing, though worth mentioning as it can get a little off-putting.
Back to the story...
As mentioned at the start of this review, the book used to be called 'Murphy's Boy'. I am not sure why the title was changed though the meaning of that original title is still in the story loud and clear. To Kevin, his life is governed by Murphy's Law, where if something bad can happen to him then it will. Torey and her co-worker are called in to help Kevin though the task is not easy as Kevin is afraid of everything and every time there is a small breakthrough, it is like taking one step forward and two steps back. In the story, Torey becomes very frustrated and through her thoughts and feelings I found myself getting frustrated though not with the story, with Kevin. At times I felt as though I wanted to throttle the boy and then realise that this actually happened and it becomes a little scary to think that a young boy could go through so much. I wouldn't necessarily say that the story is an overly powerful one, though it did manage to pull me in to the emotions of the people. I keep wanting to say characters, though knowing that although names have been changed the story is based on a real story I feel 'characters' is the wrong word to use and perhaps this is why I felt more drawn into the book. I feel that if it had been complete fiction then I perhaps would not have enjoyed the story as much as there are too many flaws in the writing style.
As the story is based on real experiences, the 'characters' are completely believable and well rounded. We get to know a lot about Torey as it is written both from her personal experiences as well as from her point of view. Through the storyline as well as her thoughts and feelings, I really feel connected to Torey in some ways. Other 'characters' are not so well rounded though we got to know just the right amount of information about each. Torey's co-worker (Jeff) for example is a large part of the story yet if we knew a lot about his background it would deter you from the story as there is no real need to know much about him. In a lot of books, I find that knowing little about a character makes that character almost invisible and often hinders the story especially if they have a large part, though due to the style of this book, too much information and background would be wrong. Kevin, on the other hand, is the main subject of the book alongside Torey, though his 'character' is slightly different. Due to records of the boy being non-existent, we find out about him and his background as Torey does; slowly and piece by piece. At first I found this frustrating (as Torey did) as I wanted to understand about this person, though this is what the story is all about and after a while I both understood this and also accepted the information coming in drabs. It made the story much more padded and worked really well. Even with the lack of information about certain people in this story, I still found myself sympathising with many of them in all different aspects.
About two thirds of the way through the story, the pace picks up suddenly and for a while becomes much more powerful and in some ways, slightly scary when realising that this actually happened to the author. This quickened pace does not last too long though even for that short while enhances the reality of the story to great depths. During this part of the story I would like to note that there are some sexual references which may upset some people. This part is written really well and very subtly though due to the power of the section it brings it out in to reality even more so. Also, talking on these lines, throughout the last half of the book (mainly) there are some sensitive issues raised such as abuse which again, may upset readers.
The story spans over a three year period with relevant spaces in between the time moving on. These gaps in time are written extremely well in order for the reader to follow the story without a problem. Two main parts in time moving on are represented by the three parts to the story. By this writing style, it is easier to follow the action within the story and understand why the changes have occurred. Also, in these time changes you find a lot of descriptive paragraphs. A lot of the time these small parts are useful in catching you up to where the action has gone to, though occasionally, like many of the descriptive parts to the book, it does become a bit monotonous.
As already mentioned before, this story quite often reads slightly like a journal of events. It has the feeling at times of flicking between this journal type story to events whilst they are happening. A lot of the conversational parts are written as part of a description rather than showing each person talking in their own quotations. At first this was a little off-putting, though I quickly became used to the style of writing and was able to immerse myself in the book very easily.
Although I fell into the story really quickly, there were times in which the story did appear slow. It is certainly not a high-action story in the main, though even with some long descriptions, there is a great story to be found between these pages, one with some great emotions and perfect feeling. I found myself interested and intrigued right up until the very end.
The ending of the book progressed perfectly. You could feel that it was all coming to an end as the pace changed once again and became a lot calmer, yet faster moving. I think in some ways, the ending became even more emotional. I shed no tears, yet I did have a lump in my throat at times. It was the perfect ending to a great story and to top it off, I found on Torey Hayden's website a letter from two of the people of the book, one being Kevin, documenting where he is in life now all those years later. It was a wonderful addition to read after a great book and fantastic ending.
Straight away I found myself immersed in this story. Knowing it was based on real events made it that much more powerful and emotional. It was not a story in which I had to have tissues handy, though it sure does set a lump in the throat. I feel the only real negative, (and even this does not detract from how good the story is), is the grammar issues already mentioned. This I overcame very easily though as the story and 'characters' really made for a great read.
I loved this book so much that I have just bought 'Ghost Girl' by Torey Hayden from Ebay for only £2.00 overall.
Do I recommend this book? Most certainly!
A/N: Sensitive subjects Abuse (specifically child abuse), Sexual issues
Kevin's life is governed by Murphy's Law, if something bad can happen to him then it will. He lives Garson Geyer residential treatment centre for adolescents and has been nicknamed zoo boy by the staff there due to the fact he lives under the table and builds a cage of tables around himself in order to keep feel safe. The staff don't know what to do with this boy who was made a ward of state by his mother some years earlier, his records state that he used to talk but now he only rocks. His life is also dominated by a number of phobias, he is terrified of water so cannot bathe, has not been outside for several years, hates dogs, notebooks and sudden noises and cannot even change his clothes as he is superstitious about being naked even for a second.
Torey Hayden is called in by the home as a last ditch attempt to treat Kevin. Her expertise in the treatment of elective mutism means that she is the one most likely to be able to help him. Kevin is nearing his 16th birthday and the staff know that if he does not make progress then his adult life will be spent languishing on the back ward of an adult psychiatric hospital.
Torey works with child psychiatrist Jeff who describes Kevin as "The ugliest kid he's ever seen. Jesus, he looks like something a sheep threw up." Zoo boy seems like a useless case, one of lifes losers but he gives glimpses that he is not as dumb as he makes out by only communicates with his therapists when he knows no one is behind the mirrored glass wall of the therapy room. He reveals an amazing capacity for artwork as he begins to draw detailed pictures of decapitations and other angry scenes. It is clear that he harbours a murderous rage for his stepfather but the reason for that rage is not immediately apparent. It is clear that Torey and Jeff have their work cut out for them if Kevin is to have any chance of any type of normal future.
This book is written from the Torey's perspective working as a child psychologist treating a disturbed child and as well as documenting Kevin's struggle it also goes into detail about the type of constraints a child care worker faces. It is clear that they can be as disturbed as the rest of us when they discover social services fail to act to stop child abuse happening. The book is reflective in nature; this is good for the most part but can also get a bit long winded especially as Torey reminisces about her previous career as a special education teacher. There are many child abuse books out there, mostly written from the victim's point of view so it makes a nice change to see one that is well written.
The subject matter is not light but there are many lighter moments through the book too. Torey also volunteers for the Big Sister programme and is given a child called Charity to mentor. Charity is a nine year old Native Indian who lives with a huge extended family and her observations on the world can be hilarious. Torey also writes about her other relationships and her life outside work so the book is not all doom and gloom.
The book is more realistic than most books in this genre, readers who expect a miracle to occur will be disappointed to read about the small and slow victories gained when working with Kevin as well as the times he slips backwards too. It's different from Hayden's other books both because of the reflective nature of the book and because the child she is working with is going through the transition to adulthood, the book follows Kevin from the age of 15 until he is 18.
Overall the book is fairly good but not as good as Torey Hayden's other books where she writes about her career as a teacher and the younger kids she worked with. It's nice to see the way that Torey and Kevin develop over the years working together but it is slow reading in parts. If Kevin can make it in life despite his horrendous start then we should never give up on others like him.
Murphy's Boy by Torey Hayden is published by Mass Market Paperbacks and is an American book available from the Amazons marketplace from 33p. The book has since been republished for UK audiences under the name Silent Boy. It was released in April 2008 and is available from Amazon.co.uk for £4.29.