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Mad Boy: An Account of Henry Phipps in the War of 1812

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Mad Boy is a rollicking, picaresque novel about family and perseverance set during America’s “forgotten war” of 1812. Young Henry Phipps is on a quest to realize his dying mother’s last wish: to be buried at sea, surrounded by her family. Not an easy task considering Henry’s ne’er-do-well father is in debtor’s prison and his comically earnest older brother is busy fighting Mad Boy is a rollicking, picaresque novel about family and perseverance set during America’s “forgotten war” of 1812. Young Henry Phipps is on a quest to realize his dying mother’s last wish: to be buried at sea, surrounded by her family. Not an easy task considering Henry’s ne’er-do-well father is in debtor’s prison and his comically earnest older brother is busy fighting the red coats on the battlefields of Maryland. But Henry’s stubborn determination knows no bounds. As he dodges the cannon fire of clashing armies and picks among the ruins of a burning capital he meets looters, British defectors, renegade slaves, a pregnant maiden in distress, and scoundrels of all types. Mad Boy is at once an antic adventure and a thoroughly convincing work of historical fiction that recreates a young nation’s first truly international conflict and a key moment in the history of the emancipation of African-American slaves. Entertaining, atmospheric, and touching, Mad Boy will transport readers with its cast of vivid characters, its masterful storytelling, and its poignant tale of a young man burdened by an outsized undertaking.


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Mad Boy is a rollicking, picaresque novel about family and perseverance set during America’s “forgotten war” of 1812. Young Henry Phipps is on a quest to realize his dying mother’s last wish: to be buried at sea, surrounded by her family. Not an easy task considering Henry’s ne’er-do-well father is in debtor’s prison and his comically earnest older brother is busy fighting Mad Boy is a rollicking, picaresque novel about family and perseverance set during America’s “forgotten war” of 1812. Young Henry Phipps is on a quest to realize his dying mother’s last wish: to be buried at sea, surrounded by her family. Not an easy task considering Henry’s ne’er-do-well father is in debtor’s prison and his comically earnest older brother is busy fighting the red coats on the battlefields of Maryland. But Henry’s stubborn determination knows no bounds. As he dodges the cannon fire of clashing armies and picks among the ruins of a burning capital he meets looters, British defectors, renegade slaves, a pregnant maiden in distress, and scoundrels of all types. Mad Boy is at once an antic adventure and a thoroughly convincing work of historical fiction that recreates a young nation’s first truly international conflict and a key moment in the history of the emancipation of African-American slaves. Entertaining, atmospheric, and touching, Mad Boy will transport readers with its cast of vivid characters, its masterful storytelling, and its poignant tale of a young man burdened by an outsized undertaking.

30 review for Mad Boy: An Account of Henry Phipps in the War of 1812

  1. 5 out of 5

    Angela M

    His father is in debtors’s prison, his brother may or may not have deserted and may or may not be dead, his mother suffers a fate no one could have predicted. The red coats are camping in the fields and ten year old Henry Phipps is left to his own ingenuity to figure out how to get his mother to the sea where she asked him to bury her. Phew! A lot going on for poor Henry and I could help but root for him. As much as I loved Henry’s spunk, I found it hard to believe he could maneuver his way thro His father is in debtors’s prison, his brother may or may not have deserted and may or may not be dead, his mother suffers a fate no one could have predicted. The red coats are camping in the fields and ten year old Henry Phipps is left to his own ingenuity to figure out how to get his mother to the sea where she asked him to bury her. Phew! A lot going on for poor Henry and I could help but root for him. As much as I loved Henry’s spunk, I found it hard to believe he could maneuver his way through all of the things he does; he just ten years old! There is a lot going on in this work of historical fiction reflecting on The War of 1812 and slavery and with the people and things that Henry encounters in his journey. On another level, it’s a coming of age story, a story of a family, such as it is, with a little magical realism, which I thought was easy to accept given the circumstances. I may be an outlier here since this has received praise in several reviews, but I just never fully connected with the story. It’s one that I can say I liked but didn’t love. Historical fiction readers should look at the other reviews as well. I received an advanced copy of this book Europa/Penguin Random House through Edelweiss.

  2. 3 out of 5

    Melissa Crytzer Fry

    I so enjoyed the humor-mixed-with-seriousness of this book. The main character, 10-year-old Henry, is endearing, and his mother, speaking to him even in death, says some outlandishly funny things. I was laughing aloud while also feeling for this young man who finds himself alone in a tumultuous world – but surrounded by a colorful cast of characters. For me, this book had a fairytale quality to it, which allowed me to suspend disbelief for the various coincidental events that put certain characte I so enjoyed the humor-mixed-with-seriousness of this book. The main character, 10-year-old Henry, is endearing, and his mother, speaking to him even in death, says some outlandishly funny things. I was laughing aloud while also feeling for this young man who finds himself alone in a tumultuous world – but surrounded by a colorful cast of characters. For me, this book had a fairytale quality to it, which allowed me to suspend disbelief for the various coincidental events that put certain characters in certain places at just the right time. The language in this slim book is quite lovely, and the added bonus, as with all historical fiction, was the ability to learn more about the War of 1812.

  3. 3 out of 5

    Mark Stevens

    "Mad Boy" is crazy good. It’s wild, loose, free-flowing, funny, grim, and warm-hearted all at the same time. "Mad Boy" takes us to an unusual place, The War of 1812, and gives us this messy war through the eyes of a ten-year-old boy, Henry Phipps. For one-fifth of Henry’s life (the last two years before this adventure starts) America has been at war with Britain, “mostly losing.” We meet Henry angry; mad. Sentence No. 3: “Someone has lied—the slave Radnor has lied to Henry, or someone has lied to "Mad Boy" is crazy good. It’s wild, loose, free-flowing, funny, grim, and warm-hearted all at the same time. "Mad Boy" takes us to an unusual place, The War of 1812, and gives us this messy war through the eyes of a ten-year-old boy, Henry Phipps. For one-fifth of Henry’s life (the last two years before this adventure starts) America has been at war with Britain, “mostly losing.” We meet Henry angry; mad. Sentence No. 3: “Someone has lied—the slave Radnor has lied to Henry, or someone has lied to Radnor: some liar has lied to someone a terrible lie.” Which might just sum up this elusive, whacky conflict from U.S. military history, a war that continues to cause debate among historians (according to Wikipedia) over its ignition point. Wars are about something, right? Today, in 2018, we know that deception plays a role in kindling war (hello, Iraq; hello, Vietnam) but In The War of 1812 it could be tariffs on trade or British support for American Indians and their armed resistance to the expansion of the American Frontier. All we know today is it was a mess. And a waste. Henry is our eyewitness to the confusion. Henry is convinced that Radnor claim—that Henry’s brother Franklin is dead—can’t possibly be true. Franklin has been executed for desertion, the claim goes, but both Henry and his mother don’t believe that’s possible. Maybe they should all get themselves to Baltimore and reunite the family. Henry’s father is in debtors’ prison and maybe they can find Franklin along the way if he hasn’t, in fact, been shot. “An hour later, the thing happens that is the worst thing.” And, in a moment: “A wide section of roof swings as if on a hinge, a huge strange shape slides through, bleating, and Mother disappears.” Mother is dead. Yes, Mother is dead but she continues to speak and have conversations with Henry. And Mother still wants to go to Baltimore—or, more precisely, to be buried at sea. She won’t be buried in the “filthy swamp dirt” and tells Henry so. At least, that’s what Henry hears. After a brief encounter and scuffle with a couple of redcoats from a temporary encampment on the plantation where the Phipps make their home, Henry puts Mother in a barrel with pickle brine and starts dragging her toward the sea on a cart. The only thing standing in Henry’s way is The War of 1812 and the resulting mayhem from citizens, soldiers, slaves, prostitutes, thieves, and anyone else who might yank Henry from his path, tempt him with a delay, or pull him into a questionable scheme. Mad Boy is episodic but episodes intertwine and interplay with each other in a neat braid. Among the characters is Franklin, who turns out to be very much alive; Franklin’s girlfriend Mary and their baby; plantation owner Jeremiah Suthers; a British soldier named Morley who switches sides to fight with the Americans ; the aforementioned Radnor who takes his chances with the redcoats; and Father, whose gambling has led to the family’s long decline. (And many others.) The Phipps’ family long decline is tragic. At the end, Father had sold a wheelbarrow and a musket for a small stake. But Father literally lost everything, including his hat and instead “bore upon his head a sort of floppy mat that he had woven out of cattail leaves.” It’s in the face of such family financial misery that Franklin announces his intention to join the army for the fifty-dollar bounty, the eight dollar monthly salary and the potential for 160 acres at wars’ end. Before dying, it was Mother who stirred feelings of “national honor” in Franklin but Father takes a broad swipe at Franklin’s motives to fight. “The national honor?” says Father. “Did the national honor give birth to your very enormous self? Will the national honor tend your hurts? Will the national honor be there when you are in a position of need? National honor! As useless as a rock in a field.” Father lashes out at The Republicans for starting the war. “They said Canada would welcome our liberating army! The Southern Republican poltroons who’ve never in their lives met a Canadian. So we marched into Canada, and lo the Canadians smash us and slaughtered us and threw us out on our ears, and for good measure took our forts along the Lakes and roused the Indians against us, so that we have spent the last two years scrabbling to get back to even, never you mind conquering Canada. Because we’re led by steaming idiocy and the Republican rabble, promoting incompetent allies in the army, enriching their friends, spending the nation into fathomless debt, propelling our boys into a hell of death and illness and amputations.” It’s into this “steaming idiocy” that Franklin runs. It’s into this war that Henry heads to find Franklin, to reconnect with his father, all carting Mother along in a pickle barrel. The White House burns. Fort McHenry is attacked. The Battle of Bladensburg, a devastating setback for American forces, plays out. Arvin doesn’t flinch from the misery on the gritty battlefields. Henry sees plenty of death—and of course is dragging his dead Mother along in the cart, occasionally letting others take a peek at her decomposing corpse. Arvin’s writing is as crisp and cool as dawn at first frost. Fresh imagery abounds. “When the clouds go, they leave the atmosphere rinsed clean, and that night Henry traces the movements of bats by the flicker of stars that they cross before. He wakes in the darkest hour to find the light that takes the color out of the world, leaving only blacks and grays.” Touching on issues from loyalty and looting to honor and ownership (both property and people), blacks and grays are everywhere in "Mad Boy." Every-plucky and resourceful Henry Phipps is our ray of light in the wilderness. Brisk, taut, colorful, inventive and lively, Nick Arvin drops us in the fog of war with a mad boy we will never forget and makes us think about the “steaming idiocy” of the present day and whether “some liar has lied to someone a terrible lie.”

  4. 3 out of 5

    Grady

    ‘Sometimes he stops and listens for Mother, a habit that won’t pass.’ In his initial novel ARTICLES OF WAR Colorado author Nick Arvin stepped into the echelon of writers who are able to credibly recreate the horrors of war without finding the need to justify the concept of war as a viable means for resolution of issues. An exceptional novel, the book relentlessly defined the passion, the fear, the atrocities, the visceral responses to the annihilation of fellow human beings, and places those resp ‘Sometimes he stops and listens for Mother, a habit that won’t pass.’ In his initial novel ARTICLES OF WAR Colorado author Nick Arvin stepped into the echelon of writers who are able to credibly recreate the horrors of war without finding the need to justify the concept of war as a viable means for resolution of issues. An exceptional novel, the book relentlessly defined the passion, the fear, the atrocities, the visceral responses to the annihilation of fellow human beings, and places those responses squarely in the body of one terrified eighteen-year-old boy. The effect – devastating: the result - one of the most vehement antiwar novels ever written. The book placed the reader in the midst of WW II and never spared a moment of grisly detail. For this Vet from another war, this book, more than most other novels about war, captured the harsh realities of battle on the line and in the minds of those sent to fight. If ever there were an antiwar statement in the form of brilliant prose, this is it. This was a tough book to read, but an inordinately important one, and an exceedingly fine novel by a gifted poet. Regarding his second novel THE RECONSTRUTIONIST Nick Arvin proved he is not only a keen observer and sensitive interpreter of those moments in life and death, but that he has an uncanny ability to take those observations and weave them into a mesmerizing story. He shared at book's end three 'accidents' that awakened in him the thirst for knowing just what happens that causes accidents, are they incidental happenings, are they part of a larger plan, and how do we ever know the complete truth of an 'accident'. True, in that novel the accidents are those involving cars - or are they? The manner in which Arvin approaches all aspects of his writing makes evident that the crossing of human paths, disjointed or disturbed time frames, the attitudes and memories and physical stigmata of things that happened before - all of these are either accidental happenings or part of a greater universal conundrum, perhaps understood by no one. Nick Arvin knows his way around constructing stories and he is unafraid to share information with his reader that will heighten the experience of becoming engrossed in his involving novels. He definitely has the gift! Now six years later he offers another historical novel, this time stepping in to the War of 1812 and the war of racism. His elected principal character is one Henry Phipps and he introduces him thus – ‘Henry Phipps runs through the shadows under great trees. He’s angry. Someone has lied— the slave Radnor has lied to Henry, or someone has lied to Radnor: some liar has lied to someone a terrible lie. He runs through wet heat and spongy mud, through clouds of gnats and sprays of pale flowers, a small boy, lean like a figure cut from a length of wood too thin for the intended shape. He wears a shirt that’s scarcely more than sacking with buttons, trousers patched in several places and cinched by a rope belt, boots with a hole in one toe, no hat. When a bramble scratches his leg, he stops to yell at the plant and kick it. Then he runs on. Old forest still covers much of the land between the Chesapeake and the Potomac, and America has been at war with Britain for two of Henry’s ten years, mostly losing. From ahead drifts the sound of an English voice, which Henry would notice if not for the noise of his own breath, rushing blood, fury. Why would Radnor lie? Who would lie to Radnor? Henry cannot fathom. He jumped to his feet and raced away before Radnor finished explaining. Henry wants to talk to Mother; Mother will know what to do. Henry is so outraged and wrathful that he gives only contempt to the idea that what Radnor said might be true— that Henry’s brother, Franklin, is dead.’ The well-turned synopsis provides the plot outline – ‘Young Henry Phipps is on a quest to realize his dying mother’s last wish: to be buried at sea, surrounded by her family. Not an easy task considering Henry’s ne’er-do-well father is in debtor’s prison and his comically earnest older brother is busy fighting the red coats on the battlefields of Maryland. But Henry’s stubborn determination knows no bounds. As he dodges the cannon fire of clashing armies and picks among the ruins of a burning capital he meets looters, British defectors, renegade slaves, a pregnant maiden in distress, and scoundrels of all types. Mad Boy is at once an antic adventure and a thoroughly convincing work of historical fiction that recreates a young nation’s first truly international conflict and a key moment in the history of the emancipation of African-American slaves. A poignant tale of a young man burdened by an outsized undertaking.’ One would need to search for other authors of this skill to incorporate historical recreations of war – the terror and the tragedy – and yet retain the human element of family and relationships that Nick blends so masterfully. Nick Arvin is an author of significance and importance in our literary scene. Digest him slowly.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    Picaresque is the perfect word to describe this rollicking adventure tale. Our roguish protagonist is only ten years old, but he manages to live a lifetime of adventures during a short span of time. Wouldn't be surprised to see this as a movie one day. Jeff Bridges will play the bad guy.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Carol Hamilton

    OK, wow, I was not expecting this! I mean, what should one expect from the description 'boy takes dead mother's body to the ocean during the war of 1812 and has some adventures along the way', but still. First, the writing is truly excellent, with so many evocative descriptions: of battle, a burning city, the boy's frustrated fury. Here is just one example, chapter 5 "He comes upon a party of sodden soldiers working by lantern light in a dim, fulvous scene, wielding axes and saws to fell lobloll OK, wow, I was not expecting this! I mean, what should one expect from the description 'boy takes dead mother's body to the ocean during the war of 1812 and has some adventures along the way', but still. First, the writing is truly excellent, with so many evocative descriptions: of battle, a burning city, the boy's frustrated fury. Here is just one example, chapter 5 "He comes upon a party of sodden soldiers working by lantern light in a dim, fulvous scene, wielding axes and saws to fell loblollies, sycamores and blackgums into the road. They are ancient trees with trunks as big around as wagon wheels, and when the wood gives way they fall through the night-dark air with mysterious, tortured sounds- the screams of old hard fibers parting, the clash of branches, the collision with the earth." I really liked the main character, an evolving young human, whose moral compass is a bit wobbly, but who generally gets it right. The plot is enjoyable and well-paced, and the other characters interesting. I liked that it was set during a war that I never really understood - gave me a reason to read a bit more about the War of 1812, though from my reading, I think I would have sided with the Brits alas. Most families have a version of a backstory about one or more members, a story that is often emotionally complicated, sometimes scintillating, sinful or sinister. The author uses a fascinating character, the dead-but-talking mother, as a kind of deus ex machina to push the reader and the boy to consider such possibilities and to give a flavor of this family's backstory and explore the existing dynamics. This was a very unique but central 'character' or plot device in the story. All in all, a truly enjoyable read. I am not sure it truly deserves 5 stars (its not Les Miserables) but I couldn't leave it at 4.

  7. 3 out of 5

    Susanna

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I really enjoyed this book, not least because it's so different from Arvin's other books, but still feels written by the same person. I wouldn't necessarily pick up a book about the War of 1812, although the war is more a matter of circumstance than an educational element in this story. Instead, the story is a picaresque adventure with many loops and twists, funny bits, and reconnections and encounters that are outlandish enough to just about seem possible. Near its beginning, the story feels a I really enjoyed this book, not least because it's so different from Arvin's other books, but still feels written by the same person. I wouldn't necessarily pick up a book about the War of 1812, although the war is more a matter of circumstance than an educational element in this story. Instead, the story is a picaresque adventure with many loops and twists, funny bits, and reconnections and encounters that are outlandish enough to just about seem possible. Near its beginning, the story feels a bit like a nod to AS I LAY DYING as young Henry must transport his dead mother to her desired burial at sea. It's a bit OLIVER TWIST, as well, as he outwits looters, redcoats, turncoats and an array of strange family members, old and new. And all takes place against the backdrop of the changing politics of slavery and liberation, not to mention cultural revenge by the British soldiers who would like to burn down the adolescent nation that rejected Mother England's protective wing. It's easy to miss among the adventure, but Arvin's writing is sparely beautiful as always: "Henry sits at the sandy edge of a pond, watching a half-dozen newts sun themselves in a few inches of water. When Henry shifts, the newts dart and vanish: a mist of silt rises where they were." (p. 129) or "The forest is cut by shafts of light slanting down. Mosses grow on the boles and the road. Swaths of ferns spread under the trees. For a time he walks beside a long still pool that shows himself back to himself. He alternates walking with trotting at a wolfish pace, sweating lavishly. Trotting has the happy effect of outdistancing the worst of the mosquitoes." (p. 160)

  8. 3 out of 5

    Mike

    One of the best books I've read in quite some time. The characters are vividly drawn and full of life, and Arvin places them and us right in the middle of the battle scenes with both horror and humour. The world of the War of Independence is an ugly one in which even those most able to wheel and deal don't always do as well as they expect. Henry Phipps has a dogged determination, an aggressive streak when confronted, sympathy for those in strife (often to his own cost) and a sense of family that One of the best books I've read in quite some time. The characters are vividly drawn and full of life, and Arvin places them and us right in the middle of the battle scenes with both horror and humour. The world of the War of Independence is an ugly one in which even those most able to wheel and deal don't always do as well as they expect. Henry Phipps has a dogged determination, an aggressive streak when confronted, sympathy for those in strife (often to his own cost) and a sense of family that causes more than a little trouble for him. He's not always wise, but he's cunning; he's the world's worst liar (something nearly every other character tells him at some point) and yet he's basically honest. Arvin's characters have a knack of turning up when least expected - both the good and the bad - and though Henry's father's motto is that the philosophers say that bad luck can't keep running on forever, both he and his son endure a great deal of it. Nevertheless there's also a curious streak of good fortune running through the story; it's just that the characters are so often mired in difficulties that they don't always notice it. I thoroughly enjoyed this.

  9. 3 out of 5

    Jason McKinney

    First and foremost, Mad Boy is a picaresque. If you're like my wife and aren't a fan of the form, you won't like Mad Boy because it's a picaresque to its very bones. I like them but feel like they can sometimes be a little samey in the way they're written. Not this one. Mad Boy's narrative structure moves like a rat with a mouse trap on its tail. Henry Phipps goes here, there and everywhere, sometimes returning to the same places over again. If you ever wondered what the hell the War of 1812 was First and foremost, Mad Boy is a picaresque. If you're like my wife and aren't a fan of the form, you won't like Mad Boy because it's a picaresque to its very bones. I like them but feel like they can sometimes be a little samey in the way they're written. Not this one. Mad Boy's narrative structure moves like a rat with a mouse trap on its tail. Henry Phipps goes here, there and everywhere, sometimes returning to the same places over again. If you ever wondered what the hell the War of 1812 was fought for, you'll be even more clueless after reading this, as Arvin seems to indicate that the result was little more than an opportunity for some random killing and heavy looting. The characters here are colorful, this universe is completely random, and the plot will keep you entertained with its willy-nilly meanderings. My one complaint (more quibble really) is that I thought the third act could have been fleshed out a little more.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lake

    Mad Boy: An Account of Henry Phillips in the War of 1812, is a historical fiction novel about a boy seeking to pay off his father's debt and bury his mother. Like any journey, he encounters a myriad of colourful characters along the way. I'm not usually a reader of historical fiction and it was hard for me to enjoy this book. However, Arvin includes surprises towards the middle which genuinely captivated my interest. The book is also written as if it is from some past time. Maybe I extracted this Mad Boy: An Account of Henry Phillips in the War of 1812, is a historical fiction novel about a boy seeking to pay off his father's debt and bury his mother. Like any journey, he encounters a myriad of colourful characters along the way. I'm not usually a reader of historical fiction and it was hard for me to enjoy this book. However, Arvin includes surprises towards the middle which genuinely captivated my interest. The book is also written as if it is from some past time. Maybe I extracted this impression from the font. Nonetheless, it added to the immersive experience. At some times, there were too many similes, found in sentence after sentence. I also felt that there was a lack of sentimentality at certain points. But I believe in the historical accuracy of this book, and fans of historical fiction may enjoy it.

  11. 3 out of 5

    Seth

    Henry Phipps is ten. But with his father in debtor's prison, his brother gone to the army, and his mother lying dead under the cow that fell through the roof of their dirt-roofed hovel, Henry has no choice. If his mother is going to get the burial she wants (at sea, with her whole family around her) Henry has to act. So he charges out through the swamps of tidewater Maryland in the midst of a British invasion during the War of 1812. Captures the urgency of childhood and the unsentimentality of w Henry Phipps is ten. But with his father in debtor's prison, his brother gone to the army, and his mother lying dead under the cow that fell through the roof of their dirt-roofed hovel, Henry has no choice. If his mother is going to get the burial she wants (at sea, with her whole family around her) Henry has to act. So he charges out through the swamps of tidewater Maryland in the midst of a British invasion during the War of 1812. Captures the urgency of childhood and the unsentimentality of war. Unites a varied cast of characters with interesting historical background and sets a frenetic, twisting path through it all.

  12. 3 out of 5

    Lauren Hough

    Here’s the thing about this book, you’ll carry it with you everywhere, because even though you were up at 3am reading, you’re mid-chapter, and you really, really need to know Henry will be alright. I mean, he’s looting battlefields and there’s a corpse in a pickle barrel. There’s a lot going on. So you crack it open to read a little while you wait for the bus. Next thing you know, an hour’s passed, you’ve missed the bus, and your backpack’s gone. You didn’t even notice another human. So what I’m Here’s the thing about this book, you’ll carry it with you everywhere, because even though you were up at 3am reading, you’re mid-chapter, and you really, really need to know Henry will be alright. I mean, he’s looting battlefields and there’s a corpse in a pickle barrel. There’s a lot going on. So you crack it open to read a little while you wait for the bus. Next thing you know, an hour’s passed, you’ve missed the bus, and your backpack’s gone. You didn’t even notice another human. So what I’m saying is, buy a new backpack with the book and save yourself some time. It’s grim and funny and weird and warm-hearted and everything you need right now.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    A wild, at times hilarious, at times touching, romp set during the War of 1812. Henry makes for a great central character but the secondary characters are great too. The setting and dialog transport you to a different world. Redcoats and Bluecoats face off, slaves seek their freedom, looters and pirates hope to take advantage of the chaos of war, while many just try to survive. Henry just wants to honor his mother's wishes but doing so, with her voice still in his head, is far from easy. A very d A wild, at times hilarious, at times touching, romp set during the War of 1812. Henry makes for a great central character but the secondary characters are great too. The setting and dialog transport you to a different world. Redcoats and Bluecoats face off, slaves seek their freedom, looters and pirates hope to take advantage of the chaos of war, while many just try to survive. Henry just wants to honor his mother's wishes but doing so, with her voice still in his head, is far from easy. A very different book than Arvin's previous, but a creative and entertaining one for sure.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Mad Boy -- set in the War of 1812 -- is a rollicking adventure that often veers into the surreal. Ten-year-old Henry Phipps’ mother has died, and he aims to fulfill her wish to be buried at sea, surrounded by family. He is also determined to scrape up the funds to free his father from debtor’s prison and to find out whether his brother Franklin has truly been shot for desertion from the American army. There are crazy characters aplenty, exciting battle scenes and wild humor that will have you ex Mad Boy -- set in the War of 1812 -- is a rollicking adventure that often veers into the surreal. Ten-year-old Henry Phipps’ mother has died, and he aims to fulfill her wish to be buried at sea, surrounded by family. He is also determined to scrape up the funds to free his father from debtor’s prison and to find out whether his brother Franklin has truly been shot for desertion from the American army. There are crazy characters aplenty, exciting battle scenes and wild humor that will have you excitedly turning pages to find out all it all ends.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    This boisterous adventure, or misadventure, with its motley cast of characters, kind of brings to mind Charles Dickens' stories, except American, and much shorter - which is my only complaint, that it doesn't last another 300 pages! The writing is excellent, and the dialog memorable. I feel like if the Coen brothers were to read this book, they'd make a movie out of it for sure. Really fun book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Reading

    This was a fast-paced, funny, coming of age, historical novel about a slice of history we’ve all learned about in school, but maybe have forgotten. Set in the area between DC and Baltimore during the War of 1812, this entertaining novel follows young Henry as he tries to make his way in life after a tragedy...and the characters he meets along the way not only enrich the story, they make him into the man he will become.

  17. 5 out of 5

    R.L. Maizes

    If you haven’t picked up MAD BOY by Nick Arvin, what are you waiting for? It’s a book about family and America's roots, a book with a quirky, irresistible character at its center. Arvin’s writing is gorgeous. His pages pop with surprises. The story is funny and moving and will stay with you. Go get it! You’ll be glad you did.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Keith Rosson

    Beautifully written, and simultaneously dark (corpse in a pickle barrel, etc.) and very funny. Arvin writes dialogue like a beast here. Really well done, and recommended for anyone into historical fiction.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Gary Homewood

    Slightly madcap historical fiction follows 10 year old Henry through adventures during the American//English war of 1812. Funny and violent with a large cast of colourful characters. War, slavery and family.

  20. 3 out of 5

    Jim

    What a beautiful piece. A boy's adventure during wartime both absurd and horrifying. Arvin reveals his tightly wrought tale with the simplicity of a bedtime story. It reminds me of "The Painted Bird" in this respect, though I wasn't left with the same ugly dread that book extracts. Excellent.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Halie Padilla

    Hey y’all! Go out and read this book NOW! Brand new on the shelves and by a Colorado native. Hilarious, adventurous, and heartfelt! You’ll love it! Probs my favorite so far!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Leslie Evans

    This is a really good story! Sort of an adventure tale about this little boy. Nick Arvin is terrific at setting a scene. I really felt the mud, the noise, the smells.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Marsha

    Suspend your disbelief and enjoy the ride (and the good writing).

  24. 3 out of 5

    Ron Davidson

  25. 3 out of 5

    Bill

  26. 4 out of 5

    John R Stearns

  27. 3 out of 5

    Linda Erikson

  28. 5 out of 5

    J

  29. 5 out of 5

    Molly O'connell

  30. 3 out of 5

    Luke

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