The Agony of Bun O’Keefe by Heather Smith (review)
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Reviewed by
Smith, Heather The Agony of Bun O’Keefe. Penguin Teen Canada, 2017 [224p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-14-319865-9 $16.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-14-319866-6 $10.99
Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 8-12

Bun O’Keefe is only fourteen (looking twelve) in 1986 when she’s kicked out of the house by her abusive hoarder mother. She meets up with a kind young man singing for change, whom she calls Busker Boy, and who takes her home to live with his housemates; they’re a motley crew with their own familial and new adulthood challenges, and they immediately take Bun under their wing, giving [End Page 36] the deprived girl the care and attention she desperately needs. However, even this cozy present contains dangers and tragedies, and it’s not clear what Bun’s future can be. Bun’s narration is effective as a girl who is neurodivergent probably from birth and certainly from sustained deprivation; her limited take and her struggles with non-literal language and social subtexts make her read plausibly young for her age, and her gradual blossoming under the kindness shown her by Busker Boy and his housemates is heartwarming. As with many rescue fantasies, this tips away from realism and toward fable, but it doesn’t evade hard realities: Bun is sexually assaulted by the landlord, and one of the housemates commits suicide. Bun’s escape from home still gains her more than those losses, though, and her finding of a loving created family will please orphan story aficionados no longer satisfied by purely sweet tales.

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