I became a huge fan of Boston Teran when I first read The Creed of Violence, and my admiration for the author only grew with God Is a Bullet and The Country I Lived In. The author remains a mysterious figure. Some speculate that this is another author writing under a pseudonym, or perhaps a group of writers working together on these projects. Whatever the case, Teran's new novel, A Child Went Forth, may be the best book I've read in a long time.
The book's title comes from a poem by Walt Whitman, and Whitman himself makes a cameo appearance as "Walt, the poet." The book is set in the United States of 1855, a time when the raging debates over slavery, immigration and other issues were tearing at the fabric of the nation. Into this setting step thirteen-year-old Charlemagne Ezekiel Griffin, "Charlie," and his father, Zacharia. The two are running a con on the famous abolitionist preacher, Henry Ward Beecher, brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose book Uncle Tom's Cabin has contributed mightily to the argument over slavery.
Zacharia, with the help of his son, plans to con Beecher and his followers out of several thousand dollars, claiming that they are going to funnel the money to abolitionists in Kansas. Charlie believes that they are really going to use the money to rescue his mother from an asylum in Ohio and then live happily ever after. Zacharia, who is running a con on his own son as well as on Beecher, actually has other plans for the money. But as often happens in a case like this, in fairly short order the plan goes awry and Charlie finds himself alone and on the run across the continent, pursued by some very dangerous enemies.
It would be a huge disservice to say anything more about the plot, but this is a gorgeous novel with characters that will remain with me for a very long time. Heroes and villains alike, they are all wonderfully imagined, Charlie Griffin in particular. This is in some respects a coming of age novel, but it is much, much more than that, and it captures brilliantly a time in the nation's history when the future of the country was truly in doubt. It's an exciting, gripping, and beautifully-rendered story--a book I'll be reading again and again in the years to come.