Sheltered: When a Boy Becomes a Legend (henceforth known as Sheltered) is a strange book. Not bad, nor particularly great.
It’s a coming-of-age novel(la) framed through the prism of an invasion of the United States. Sinister forces, including those from within, enable a country-wide shutdown, with only the major cities protected. This leaves James, his sister, and a handful of younger kids to protect their town.
It’s a potentially interesting idea, if a little cliché.
But there is a major issue with the book – much of the content isn’t suitable for its supposed target audience.
Who is Sheltered Aimed at?
Sheltered is allegedly aimed at middle-graders (that’s ages 9-11 UK readers). At first glance, this makes sense. It reads like a middle-grade novel.
However, there’s an unnerving level of violence for this audience.
A dog is shot – its spasms of death detailed as the shooter proceeds to kick it repeatedly. Rape is referenced on at least two occasions. The reader is told that the ‘smell of burning flesh was pungent’.
This is all violence that belongs in a YA novel, or older. I cannot in good faith recommend this book for younger children. It’s just not aimed at the right audience.
Which raises the question – who is Sheltered really for? Because i‘m not entirely sure.
It falls into a problematic limbo where it’s too simplistic a read for the YA audience and too violent for the younger demographic. The subject matter is incredibly serious, so the reader expects a serious examination of the invasion. Why did it happen? What are the actual motives of these invaders?
Are there any moral quandaries the characters face?Sheltered offers little detail – bar graphic detail – which leaves the reader confused. Is this a middle-grade novel? Certainly not. Is it a YA novel? Not really, no. Is it for adult readers? No. And therein lies the problem.
The details of this invasion are not given. It’s a simple case of foreign enemies and national traitors seeking to destabilise America.
It seems dishonest and a little crass to use the USA’s real political opponents to serve as faceless antagonists. Especially if you’re aiming this book at younger children. They’re evil simply because they’re on the other side.
This is compounded by the fact that James, the protagonist, serves as something of the moral compass for the older characters in the novel. And yet even he buys into the ‘foreigners and traitors vs America’ narrative.It’s a plot that, once bought up, needs to be explored in more detail, or scrapped entirely.
The Positives of Sheltered
Sheltered is not without its merits.
There is a clear passion in the writing. Jacob Paul Patchen’s novel is written with genuine heart and honesty. Its focus on family and comradeship is touching, and there’s an authenticity to James and his father’s relationship.
As James recounts his story to the younger children, he demonstrates an all-too-rare playfulness that, when twinned with their bond of fraternity, is pleasant to read..
And despite its clumsy execution, moments like this give the novel a much-needed extra dimension.
However, the fact remains that Sheltered is a book with very limited appeal.
The writer’s passion comes across, and that’s commendable, but it’s not enough. The story & characters are basic and the level of violence explored in this middle-grade book is extraordinary.
I’m not certain that this book has found a true audience, and with this in mind, I cannot really recommend Sheltered.
Sheltered: When a Boy Becomes a Legend is available to
purchase on Amazon.co.uk in both eBook and paperback.
For more information on how Tales from Absurdia reviews are scored, please check out the Review Rating System.