A Troublesome Boy
By Paul Vasey
(Groundwood Books, Hardcover, 9781554981540, 192pp.)
Publication Date: May 2012
Enter your zip code below to find indies closest to you.
Teddy can’t believe how fast his life has changed in just two years. When he was twelve, his father took off, and then his mother married Henry, a man Teddy despises. But Teddy has no control over his life, and adults make all the decisions, especially in 1959. Henry decides that Teddy should be sent to St. Ignatius Academy for Boys, an isolated boarding school run by the Catholic church.
St. Iggy’s, Teddy learns, is a cold, unforgiving place something between a juvenile detention center and reform school. The other boys are mostly a cast of misfits and eccentrics, but Teddy quickly becomes best friends with Cooper, a wise-cracking, Wordsworth-loving kid with a history of neglect. Despite the priests’ ruthless efforts to crack down on the slightest hint of defiance or attitude, the boys get by for a while on their wits, humor and dreams of escape. But the beatings, humiliation and hours spent in the school’s infamous time-out” rooms, and the institutionalized system of power and abuse that protects the priests’ authority, eventually take their toll, especially on the increasingly fragile Cooper.
Then one of the new priests, Father Prince, starts to summon Cooper to his room at night, and Teddy watches helplessly as his friend withdraws into his own private nightmare, even as Prince targets Teddy himself as his next victim.
Teddy and Cooper’s only reprieve comes on Saturdays, when the school janitor, Rozey, takes the boys to his run-down farmhouse outside of town, the only place where the boys can feel normal fishing, playing cribbage, watching the bears at the local dump. But even this can’t stop Cooper’s downward spiral and eventual suicide. And just when Teddy thinks something good might come out of his friend’s tragedy, he finds himself dealing with the ultimate betrayal.
Growing up in Owen Sound, Paul Vasey endured a couple of stints at boarding school when he was nine, and again when he was fifteen: “My overwhelming feeling, especially at nine but also at fifteen, was of being betrayed; of being sent from a warm place to a cold one; of being sent away into the care of people who were only paid to care. A very lonely feeling.” While he says he has never experienced the abuse suffered by many boarding-school boys, he did witness many scenes of cruelty and violence — scenes that ultimately stirred his memories and fed this novel.
Eventually Vasey got a job at the local daily, The Owen Sound Sun-Times, and from there went on to a stellar career in journalism — print, television and radio. He has worked with The Windsor Star, Canadian Press, The Hamilton Spectator and the CBC (where he spent sixteen years as host of the morning show in Windsor, and two years hosting the morning show in Victoria, B.C.), and he has been awarded a Southam Fellowship for Journalists. He is the author of five novels for adults, as well as the nonfiction title, Kids in the Jail: Why Our Young Offenders Do the Things They Do (described by the Calgary Herald as “the most accurate and provocative demonstration yet of one of the most contentious issues of the decade”). As the board member of a mental-health treatment center for children and adolescents, he has seen how devastating abuse is for its victims, and how long-lasting its effects. He lives in Windsor with his wife, Marilyn.
"A Troublesome Boy is full of tension, humour, disturbing characters as well as sympathetic ones, a commentary on Catholic schools and the abuse that pupils endured in the 1950's, and a beautifully constructive narrative voice."—CM Magazine
"Just when I was thinking St. Iggy’s must be in the next county, there it was up at the top of the hill. Rita was right. Jeezus creepy place. Red brick, three stories, rows of squinty windows. Looked exactly like a prison."
from the book