In 1889, the Boston Farm School didn’t accept boys with any sort of criminal record. Which made it the perfect place for two boys who accidentally killed someone to hide. Charles has been living alone on the streets of Boston for the last two of his twelve years. Aidan’s mom can’t stay sober enough to keep her job. When the boys team up, Charles teaches Aidan the art of rolling drunks in the saloon and brothel district, and life starts to look up–until a robbery goes horribly wrong one night and they need to leave the city or risk arrest.When the boys con their way into The Boston Farm School–located on an island one mile out in Boston Harbor–they think they’ve cheated fate. But the Superintendent is obsessed with keeping the bad element out of his school, and as both their story and their friendship start to splinter, Charles and Aidan discover they are not as far from the law as they had hoped.
I’m at the end of wrapping up some of my reviews from the BookSparks’ Fall Reading Challenge 2015. This book review is in the BookSparks “class” called On The Run 101, in the Historical Fiction Department.
While I’ve never been a fan of anything labeled historical, I will admit that the author, Connie Mayo, does a great job telling this story. The Island of Worthy Boys is a refuge for those who had no other options besides a life of crime on the tough streets of Boston at the turn of the 20th century. Charles is a street orphan who already knows how to live on the street and Aidan is a young Irish boy just trying to support himself, his mom and his young sister. These two boys form a friendship that is deep enough to call a brotherhood.
The boys are each suffering through their own hard times and their friendship is only solidified when things take a turn for the worse. The boys are desperate and begin to roll drunken sailors on the waterfront. One night, a drunk grabs Charles who has just opened the man’s pocket knife, and, in horrible accident, plunges the knife into the man’s gut. Worse, a woman happens out of an alley door, spots the boys, and screams out thus forcing Charles and Aiden to leave town.
Charles and Aidan then pass themselves off as brothers and end up conniving their way into the Boston Farm School on an island in Boston Harbor. The school offers school, work, shelter, and regular meals to the boys for a time. As the months roll on the boys both continue to learn and make friends. They even become hopeful and happy but just as they start to think things are looking good for them, their past wrongs come back to haunt them and their future is in jeopardy once again.
I would recommend this book enthusiastically to anyone interested in Boston’s history, or anyone who simply enjoys a great historical story. In fact, an interesting fact I learned was that the Boston Farm School on Thompson Island in Boston Harbor was a real institution, and Charles Bradley, the superintendent of the school in the book, was in fact the superintendent from 1888 to 1922; his wife Mary was the school’s matron. The school was finally closed in 1975.
Connie Hertzberg Mayo finally felt old enough in her forties that she thought she had something to say in a novel. During the years it took to find the time to write this book, her family made up the adjective “hoop-and-stick” (referencing the turn of the century children’s toy) to describe her penchant for simple things of the past, particularly that have no technology component (as in, “Mom likes chess because it’s so hoop-and-stick”). She fully recognizes the irony of this, given that she wrote this novel on her laptop. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, two children, two cats and her heirloom tomato garden. Visit www.conniemayo.com for more information.
I received a complimentary paperback copy of this book from the publishers and BookSparks in exchange for this post, which is my honest review and unbiased opinion.