Luper, Eric. Bug Boy. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009.
The crafts people and artists who make up my circle of friends amaze me. I feel lucky and proud to have Eric Luper in this circle. I know that I said I would only review picture books and books for middle grade audiences. I know. But I just finished Eric Luper’s, Bug Boy (which is a Young Adult book) and I couldn’t put it down.
What’s really wonderful about this book is how Eric works the plot arch. First the reader learns to love the protagonist Jack Walsh, a shabby horse exerciser and stable cleaner. He makes Jack’s desires crystal clear and provides the main character with enough know how, personality, and drive to get the job done. The reader routes for Jack 100%.
Next, Eric immerses the reader in the horse racing culture of Saratoga Springs in 1934. From architecture to wardrobe, racing strategy to jockey speak, the historic and racing details are amazing. The reader can hear the sounds of the track: skirts rustling, hooves pounding, bookies gambling– cigar smoke mixes with whiskey and horse manure. Lovely!
Finally, Eric ratchets up the tension by inserting well-placed obstacles for our hero. The obstacles are physical, psychological, and ethical and force Jack Walsh to make grown up decisions. As the tension mounts (get it, mounts), Eric reveals back story as smoothly as a spider exudes her webbing until he catches the reader on the edge of her seat. At one point of the story, I actually said aloud, “Oh no she didn’t.”
While the book is written for Young Adults I highly recommend it for adults as well. If this book isn’t optioned for a movie in the next few years, I’ll eat my riding helmet.