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The Boy by Betty Jane Hegerat {book review}

The Boy by Betty Jane HegeratI can’t remember if I had heard about the Cook murders before Betty Jane Hegerat mentioned what her latest book, The Boy, was about. Perhaps it came up somewhere in the Alberta social studies curriculum.

Even if I had heard about the murders, I can’t say I’d have picked up a book about them. I’m not into horror movies, murder mysteries, or gruesome stories that get splashed around the news before being replaced by the next sensational story.

And even though I’ve met Betty Jane and loved her first three books, I wasn’t sure I wanted to read The Boy.  Fiction and creative nonfiction about a boy who murdered his father, stepmother, and five siblings? Maybe I’ll pass. I could still help Betty Jane promote it, though. Historical fiction does interest me, so I had a few questions for her about researching her latest project.

This book was provided for review courtesy of the publisher. This post contains affiliate links; as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Reading The Boy

Then The Boy arrived in my mailbox for review. And I couldn’t put it down once I started reading.

The story starts out with Louise, a thirty-something teacher who meets Jake, a car salesman and widower with an almost-teenage son. After a brief courtship, they get married and then pregnant. Among Jake’s former wife’s things, Louise finds a scrapbook about Robert Raymond Cook. The story scares her, though she tells herself that her stepson Danny is nothing like Bobby. No similarities.

In between Louise’s story, Betty Jane tells her own story—her early memories of the Cook murder, her attempts to research what really happened, and how Louise keeps talking in her head.

I found it fascinating to follow the process of research and writing. One might think the fictional parts of the book would be more interesting than the nonfiction, but that wasn’t true—I was excited to start each new chapter, whether it was Roads Back or The Boy. Each presented new tidbits of information, new ideas to muse about.

As Betty Jane says throughout the book, there is no way to rewrite the ending of the Cooks’ story. There might never even be an answer to who was the murderer—Robert Raymond Cook was declared guilty and hung, but serious doubts about his guilt exist. In Louise’s story, however, Betty Jane was able to craft not a “happily ever after” ending, but at least an ending that leaves the reader feeling hopeful.

“If I grew tired of radio talk on the drive to Stettler, the glove compartment held a pile of CDs, and I could switch to music. Or, I could enjoy the four hours of silence, but that was an invitation to Louise to wake up and I had now decided on a twist for her story that I did not want to divulge until the words were on the page. I wanted the reins in my own hands. Louise had seized control like no other character I’d ever encountered, but I was determined that the ending to her story was going to be mine. Non-negotiable.” ~ Betty Jane Hegerat, The Boy

Have you heard of the Cook murders? Would you read a book that explores that story through fiction and nonfiction?

The Boy made it onto my Best Books of 2011 list!

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