By Betty Corbin Tucker
Independent Book Reviews:
In reading Boarding School Boy by Ashley Shemain,
I found the storyline to be fascinating, mesmerizing, and unforgettable even when I was outside of the bound pages. The characters and the in-depth way that the author brought them to life through vivid description, realistic dialog, and the display of inner and outward emotions showed the uniqueness and individual traits of each individual who played a part in this extremely well-written novel.
This story takes place in the days of the British Raj in India and is primarily centered around St. Augustine’s Boarding School and five particular students—a quintet which ultimately becomes known as “the Gang.” Allow me to briefly introduce the five boys that readers follow through the years until they are ready to graduate as seniors. I’ll begin with John McInnis who was called “the Hare.” He was quick, bright, devious and cunning. His father was the assistant mechanical engineer for the Railway, a position that he used to get Colin Hunter, his son’s friend, admitted to the boarding school as a ward of the state. Although Colin’s father had also been employed by the Railway, his drinking had ruined his career and the lives of his family. The two boys entered the school at the same time and remained close friends. Colin Hunter carried himself well, and his large, deep blue eyes and golden brown complexion were startling. Father Patrick, his school master, taught him to hunt, and Hunter—appropriately named—took enthusiastically to the role. Brian Hardy, Hunter’s friend, was very friendly, good-natured, steadfast, and intelligent, always showing common sense... His father had started working at the Railway at the age of eighteen. In contrast, Trevor Montagu was born to privilege; his father, a second son of the British gentry, served in the management of His Majesty’s empire. Although Trevor, patient but calculating, easily adapted to St. Augustine’s Boarding School, there was something about him that seemed to send a message to some students that he thought he was better than them.
The fifth and last member to become part of the Gang was Ranji Singh, an Indian prince, the son of the Maharaja of Panipur. All he wanted was acceptance by the other students who imagined that he was receiving special treatment. In reality, his father had made sure that his son would be treated no differently than the other students—though he did have a bodyguard. After Ranji, though smaller in stature than the oppressor, intervened in a fight in which he knew that Montagu needed help, he not only became part of the quintet, but also finally gained acceptance by the other students. Still, there was unspoken resentment because he was considered to be “special.”
In the preface of the book, readers see how the various attributes of the first four of these boys were utilized when they played a game called “Bang Bang” in the lush jungle in the circle of high peaks that surrounded the school. Father Patrick sat on a rock in a clearing while directing and watching their activities as they enthusiastically pretended to shoot one another.
As readers watch the boys mature, they witness the bond and competition between them become stronger. The school offers sporting seasons, October sports holidays, concerts, 3-month holidays and other events which show the strengths, talents, and emotions of the five boys and their families. Some parents come to watch their children perform and compete in various school activities. Interesting conversations take place during these in-school visits by the parents.
There are tense moments when Hunter is severely wounded by a tiger, and Montagu gives blood in an attempt to save his life. Later, the Hare is bitten by a Cobra.
Hunter is my favorite character in the book, probably influenced by the fact that as a small, confused child he saw his mother and the Hare’s father both naked but did not understand what he had interrupted. This affected his entire life, and yet his desire is to finish school and help his destitute mother. While in school, he has no family visits and is haunted by the past. Others do reach out to him. Hunter knows very little about “sex,” but has three females attracted to him—two young girls and an older woman. When he experiences desire, Hunter is confused about sex and sin. Father Patrick is also struggling with sexual issues regarding a past love and a present-day temptation.
As this book, with its progressive and surprising twists, comes to a climatic ending, readers will be aghast at the shocking final events that take place. There was no way I was prepared for the outcome of this novel, and I could not put the book down as I read the ending chapters. This is an outstanding and “must read” book which should be made into a movie as it has all the ingredients necessary for success.
Bettie Corbin Tucker
For Independent Professional Book Reviewers