Bell Prater’s Boy

On a warm early Sunday morning in October 1953, a barefoot Belle Prater left her bed and vanished from the face of the earth. Shortly after her disappearance, Belle’s 12-year-old son Woodrow is sent to live with his grandparents and left to wonder, what happened to his mother? As he adjusts to his new life without her, he finds comfort and friendship in his same age cousin Gypsy, who still bears the pain from her own father’s death.

This book gently explores childhood abandonment and grief. Woodrow’s over-zealous imagination and embellished story telling skills help him cope with his grief. Gypsy gets frustrated and questions why Woodrow isn’t angry as she is. I enjoyed the uniqueness of each child, and especially grew fond of Woodrow’s character. Gawky and cross-eyed, you couldn’t help but love his easy-going nature and jokester personality. I yearned to wrap my arms around both these kids and take their pain away, because their hurt was so tangible. There is a spirit of fun in the book, but it still deals candidly with some heavy, real life issues like bitterness, betrayal, and suicide. I should note there is also some drinking of wine to “soothe the nerves” and Woodrow pretends to spike a party guest’s punch.

Though I enjoyed the author’s uncomplicated style and ability to convey this story, it was a bittersweet experience. The book offers mystery, memorable characters, and a scenic visit to rural Virginia, but the journey to the truth was sad. Belle Prater’s Boy is best suited for less sensitive children who are ready for a real people, emotional read powered by vivid descriptions of lazy summer afternoons and the joys of friendship. The Search for Belle Prater is the sequel.

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