Can a person overcome his upbringing, or is he doomed to carry on with what he has known? As an orphan raised by Floyd, a traveling huckster, Grady has only known deception. From the time he was a very young boy, he was trained to put on a show to convince gullible villagers that he was a savage, swamp-dwelling, alligator rasslin’ creature known by legend as a Feechie. Grady is even convinced at one point that he actually is a Feechie. What else could explain his extraordinary ugliness? They have a successful show for years until people stop believing in Feechies. So they are forced to try some other unscrupulous schemes to make a living.
The Charlatan's Boy by Jonathan Rogers is written in a charming Southern narrative style, coloquial grammar and all. The story follows Grady, now a teenager, through a time of searching, as he wonders about his origin and what he should choose to do with his future. Will he continue to blindly follow Floyd and his schemes without any love or appreciation in return? Floyd is, after all, the only family, or even friend, that Grady has known in his life. Or will he strike out on his own and become an ordinary and honest man? He feels way too repulsive to really fit in anywhere. Grady’s very identity is bound up in the Feechie Trade that he grew up with. So he and Floyd decide that, one way or another, they must revive belief in Feechies, and their livelihood along with it.
When I started reading The Charlatan’s Boy, I was afraid I would have trouble overcoming my aversion to reading first person narrative style. It’s one of my personal quirks, and I try to stretch out of it a bit from time to time. In this case, though, Jonathan Rogers’ unusual writing voice made it more than tolerable, and it didn’t take long for me to get over it.
One thing that did cause a more substantial hang-up for me was that the story is very character based and it didn’t strike a very in-depth plot until the second half. I personally prefer an engaging plot that keeps me coming back, begging to know what happens next. Having a young child and little time to read, I’ve unfortunately become a little more impatient about reading than I previously was. The beginning of the book was a bit episodic, and while still very enjoyable, it wasn’t very suspenseful. During the first half of the book, I found myself forgetting about the book, leaving it sitting around for a few days at a time without reading. The second half, however, I devoured pretty quickly as the plot became more engrossing.
I have to say that the best thing about The Charlatan’s Boy is the ending. It was very satisfying and unexpected. At the end of the book it says there is another book about Grady coming out this fall. So, knowing that, the book makes more sense as an introduction to something bigger. The goal of this first book seems to be establishing the characters and the background for a greater story, making the slower plot more forgivable. So, despite the few stylistic conflicts I had with The Charlatan’s Boy, I can honestly say that I plan to read the next one, and perhaps some of Jonathan Rogers’ previous work.
I received a copy of the book from Waterbrook/Multnomah for this review through their Blogging for Books program. You can purchase The Charlatan’s Boy by Jonathan Rogers here.
Following is a sample chapter from the book.