Booklist Reviews

Charlie has spent most of his life trying to escape his childhood. After his mother left, his destitute dad forced him into a traveling gig as the world's youngest published author, peddling Beetle Boy stories Charlie made up from tales his mother used to tell. No matter that the stories were really run off at the copy shop, and no matter that he was humiliated by the tours (to say nothing of the costume). Willey traces how Charlie, in late high school, finally gets out of Dad's sordid motel living arrangement, connects with an important mentor, and later finds a girlfriend who wants to delve into his past a little too much. Charlie's intense dreams about his childhood and his uncertainty about his future fuel a powerful, angst-ridden narration that grips the reader from page one. Readers may want to know more about these impactful stories and they might find the ending a bit contrived, but Willey has nonetheless written a chilling tale with intriguing characters. Hard to put down. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews

As a child Charlie Porter was paraded around by his exploitive father as the "World's Youngest Published Author" of the Beetle Boy series. Now eighteen, he suffers from brutal nightmares. Throughout, Charlie convincingly wrestles with anger, guilt (for leaving his little brother behind), and gratitude toward the crotchety old children's book author, Mrs. M., who helped him. Willey crafts a delicate psychological landscape.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews

As eighteen-year-old Charlie Porter slowly and painfully convalesces from a ruptured Achilles tendon at his girlfriend Clara's house, bits of his past--years of being paraded around in a bug costume by his exploitive father as the "World's Youngest Published Author" of the Beetle Boy series--begin to reveal themselves in the form of brutal nightmares in which he's tormented by a giant beetle. While Charlie's subconscious works through the traumas of his abusive childhood that are quite literally bugging him, bleeding-heart Clara considers her glimpse into his turmoil as an invitation to force him to confront his most painful memories in the name of healing (and emotional intimacy). Convinced she can save Charlie and help him repair relationships with the mother who abandoned him and the younger brother he, in turn, abandoned, Clara naively digs into his past without permission and finds more damage than she's capable of handling. Throughout, Charlie convincingly wrestles with anger regarding the mental abuse and abandonment he suffered as a child, guilt for escaping that suffering while ultimately leaving his little brother behind, and gratitude toward crotchety old children's book author Mrs. M., who did what she could over the years to care for him. Willey crafts a delicate psychological landscape through carefully timed flashbacks, showing how injuries (and small kindnesses) from the past inform future relationships. Relentlessly honest, and also hopeful. shara l. hardeso Copyright 2014 Horn Book Magazine.

Kirkus Reviews

Nightly, Kafkaesque dreams of a giant beetle plague 18-year-old Charlie as he recuperates from a ruptured Achilles tendon in the home of his girlfriend, Clara.Clara, well-meaning but intrusive, sees herself as an angel of mercy who can patch up Charlie's broken family by inviting his estranged younger brother, Liam, and mother over without telling him. After his mother left him and Liam alone with their abusive father, Charlie spent years seeking the safety he'd thought he found at age 7 when he first recounted his mother's bedtime stories about a character called Beetle Boy to his father, something he'd come to recognize as "an early big mistake." His con-man father printed the stories and paraded Charlie around to book fairs in a beetle costume as "the World's Youngest Published Author." When Charlie grew too old, his father passed Liam off as Charlie, straining the relationship between the brothers to the breaking point. Charlie has survived with the help of Mrs. M., a curmudgeonly author he met at a fair, who has kept an eye on him over the years. Willey takes readers along on Charlie's painful journey back to physical and emotional health via a meandering timeline of flashbacks, dreams and wrenching conversations, skillfully weaving together the bits and pieces of his life. Innovative use of type brings an immediacy to Charlie's struggles as he slowly looks the truth—and his brother—squarely in the face.Demanding—and riveting. (Fiction. 13-17) Copyright Kirkus 2014 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Willey (Four Secrets) returns with a riveting story about being robbed of one's childhood. When Charlie Porter is seven years old, his mother abandons him, his father, and his younger brother, Liam. To comfort his father, Charlie recites his mother's bedtime stories about a beetle. Sensing an opportunity, Charlie's short-tempered, womanizing father shoves him into the role of the "world's youngest published author," pressuring him to write and promote the books they cobble together, wear a bug costume, visit schools, and attend conferences. It's at these author gatherings that Charlie gets to know acerbic veteran author Mrs. M., with whom he forges an unlikely but crucial friendship. Now 18, Charlie is estranged from his family and living with his girlfriend Clara, who is growing increasingly frustrated with Charlie's unwillingness to discuss his past. Willey expertly peels away Charlie's backstory in flashbacks that alternate with present-day scenes that have Charlie wracked by horrific beetle-themed night terrors and consumed by guilt over abandoning Liam when life with their father became too much to bear. A potent story about the power that the past exerts on the present. Ages 13–18. (Sept.)

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School Library Journal Reviews

Gr 10 Up—This is the fictional story of Charlie Porter, "the world's youngest published author." He didn't intend to become famous, but at age seven, Charlie began telling a story about a talking beetle in order to stop his father from crying. Soon the story becomes a book, which becomes a long series of events, festivals, and marketing campaigns. Willey's novel illustrates the price children face when they grow up without an ounce of parental stability. Now 18, Charlie is forced to reconcile his traumatic past and forge ahead building normal relationships. The emotional revelations are well paced and the characters feel real and believable, which is an extraordinary feat considering the range of personalities present in the text. Readers will find themselves rooting for—and sometimes against—Charlie as his girlfriend force-feeds him the past that he has tried so hard to forget. The recurring nightmares that he suffers highlight the power that childhood trauma has on people even after they've escaped childhood. Many of the lessons and ideas that can be taken away from this text would be powerful discussion fodder for high school students. Mature language and sexual situations make this most appropriate for older teens.—Chad Lane, Easton Elementary, Wye Mills, MD

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