Can a boy on the edge find his way back? From award-winning Icelandic author Fridrik Erlings comes a novel as cruel as it is tender. Henry has a clubfoot and he is the target of relentless bullying. One day, in a violent fit of anger, Henry lashes out at the only family he has — his mother. Sent to live with other troubled boys at the Home of Lesser Brethren, an isolated farm perched in the craggy lava fields along the unforgiving Icelandic coast, Henry finds a precarious contentment among the cows. But it is the people, including the manic preacher who runs the home, who fuel Henry’s frustration and sometimes rage as he yearns for a life and a home. Author Fridrik Erlings offers a young adult novel that explores cruelty and desperation, tenderness and remorse, but most importantly, kindness and friendship.
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Boy on the Edge follows Henry, a poor, disadvantaged and club-footed boy, from a young age to his early teenage years and beyond. After an angry outburst that leaves his own mother with a broken arm, he is sent away to a place called the “Home of the Lesser Brethren" in the middle-of-nowhere, Iceland; a place for misfit boys run by Reverend Oswald. Henry wrestles with his love for Oswald’s wife, Emily, who is more like a mother to him than his own, and his hatred for Reverend Oswald’s religious lessons. He also tries to find his place among the other boys there, and marvels when he does eventually make a friend or two. His biggest triumph is finding that he has the ability to take on responsibilities on the farm: taking care of the cows and sheep is something he can do with ease over time, and he revels in the trust he builds with Emily. He also finds escape in the stories she tells and the mysteries he solves by the cliffs that tower over the sea near the farm. Every element of this story blended perfectly; every detail made an impact on Henry’s journey. Told from his inner perspective, the reader can get a more true mental picture of what it is like to be the social outcast—not only is this great storytelling, it is vital to teach the empathy necessary to prevent bullying.
Fridrik Erlings’ writing style is exquisitely wrought and I was transported to Iceland almost completely the entire time I read this. The breathtaking imagery in Henry’s story acts as a striking support to his inner war; the landscape is harsh and isolated, and it serves as the perfect backdrop to his own isolation from ‘normal’ people. The contrast between Henry’s desire for love and companionship and the power he feels when he lets his true self come out while alone is incredibly personal and will strike any ‘normal’ person who reads it as simply what it is to be human. The rest of us may have better looks, self-control, or social abilities, but the human condition is always characterized by an inner war between good and evil, right and wrong, love and hate. I think Henry’s story can help both social outcasts and popular kids alike see the similarities lying within all of us and teach us to choose the good in how we treat others who are different—especially the poor, the weak, the deformed, the disabled, and the ugly.
Boy on the Edge is a book I recommend every teenager read and a story that will stay with me the rest of my life, a story I will probably read more than once. I encourage you to pick it up.