Happy Friday. For my American friends who were observing it yesterday, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. My review of Eli Gottlieb's Best Boy today first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers. I am posting it today with their permission. Hope you enjoy.
First line: "Payton Living Center was the sixth place in a row Momma had taken me but neither of us knew it was the one where I'd stay forever and ever."
Todd Aaron is a seasoned veteran of Payton Living Center. Eli Gottlieb's (The Face Thief) fifty-year-old autistic narrator lives in a cottage on the center's grounds, works in a nearby school cafeteria and follows all the rules so he can be a "best boy."
With the exception of his annoying roommate, Todd is content at Payton--until the arrival of "Mike the Apron." The new staff member reminds Todd of his abusive father, and his discomfort foreshadows trouble for the vulnerable protagonist: "I was nervous and I stayed that way. I carried it around with me like a fizzy drink I drank too much of fast, that was always about to make me burp. The pressure was inside me and pushing steady, even though I hoped it would go away."
To compound Todd's uneasiness, Martine, a female resident, encourages him to stop taking his medication. Torn between his budding attraction for her and his need to be a best boy, Todd says, "My feelings pushed out of me towards Martine as strongly as the Law pushed back. I stood between the feelings while they canceled each other out to make an emptiness in my head."
The burp comes when Todd decides he can't cope any longer. Quietly setting off in the night, he leaves Payton, determined to go home.
Best Boy packs an emotional whopper of a story into a relatively quick read. Gottlieb respectfully molds Todd, avoiding stereotypes in a faithful portrayal of autism. Both heart-breaking and heart-warming, Best Boy leaves a dazzling impression.
Best Boy is available in hardcover (ISBN: 9781631490477) from Liveright and as an unabridged audiobook (ISBN: 9781504617499), narrated by Bronson Pinchot from Blackstone Audio from your favorite independent bookstore and the following retailers: