Benjamin and his friends, Manny and Jeff, are looking forward to a hot and lazy summer vacation when a new young boy moves in nearby. Roland from Scotland has a lot of interesting ideas, ideas that intrigue and inspire the young boys with dreams of chivalrous knighthood. When the matron of the town, Grandma Dell, is threatened the boys form the Order of the Dragon, a make believe knighthood that is all but pretend to them. The boys walk a dangerous line with their local bullies and with each other, playing at knighthood with real life stakes.
What is Benjamin Dove about?
Benjamin Dove, told partly as a recollection by an adult Benjamin from the perspective of his childhood, concerns itself with the play games of ten year old Benjamin, Jeff, and Roland and nine year old Manny. The story focuses on the events of a single summer in Benjamin’s childhood during which the arrival of Roland McIntosh changed the dynamics of the playground. Primarily told from Benjamin’s perspective, the story also takes brief forays into the minds of the other boys, including one of their bullies.
While much of the book is focused on the boys’ games, there is also the pressing need of the beloved town matron Grandma Dell. Overseer of the playground, Grandma Dell is an important caregiver and source of comfort for all the children in the town and when her livelihood is threatened the Order of the Dragon rises to the occasion to provide justice.
Genre: Literary fiction
This book is very slice of life, detailing only a single time period in a child’s life both from the childhood lens and the adulthood recollection. The writing is simple and the book short, so it could be an appropriate book for a younger audience as well as an older one.
Tropes: Childhood trauma
Like other books in that strange in-between of adult topics from a child’s perspective, this book deals with some of the traumas faced in childhood. It takes into account how children are less intuitive about what may be affecting others around them, but also how childhood naivety has its strengths.
Plot: Chivalry and sadness
Much of the plot concerns the Order of the Dragon, the pretend knighthood invented by the boys after Roland enchants them with stories of his Scottish ancestors. This chivalric order is especially bolstered in the face of tragedy and grief, as the boys use their game to affect real change in the world around them.
This book is surprisingly inspiring! Of course, the idea of a group of young boys forming a pretend order of knighthood isn’t too far fetched, but the things they accomplish as a group are truly impressive. The boys each demonstrate a level of compassion and caring that is pleasant to read, and where their flaws emerge you also see healing and growth. There are also some very strong bonds between various characters, including some of the side characters, and a generally pleasant sense of community in the setting.
There was the presence of one continued thread, not quite plot, that I’m not sure had a purpose but kind of took me out of the story at first. This is Manny’s choice of heraldic icon, the unicorn, and its constant presence in his dreams as described from his perspective. At one point it is revealed that Manny is frightened of horses due to an incident when he was younger, but he sees the unicorn as so mighty he can’t fear it. I’m not sure why, but this thread felt unconnected to the rest of the story, perhaps because it was the only real characterization given to Manny in comparison to the greater levels of character development given to the other boys.
I don’t have much for this section. While certain aspects of the boys’ success in their knighthood seems unrealistic, it was also pleasing to read about and inspiring as I mentioned above, and so doesn’t deserve to be placed in this section. I would say my only solid criticism is that at times it’s hard to tell if the way Benjamin speaks or thinks is due to childhood or reflection. I was initially confused when I started the novel because it begins with Benjamin as an adult and then immediately transitions into his ten year old voice without explanation. Without my husband there to clarify what I was reading, I would have remained confused for a little while probably.
This was not a book I would have picked up on my own. My husband read it as a child (the author is Icelandic, and my husband is Icelandic) and wanted me to read it so he could hear my thoughts. As an adult, I haven’t formed an attachment to the book but I understand why reading it as a child might make it formative for you. It’s a good, quick read and it tackles some serious topics that I think children would appreciate as much as adults. The narrative voice was only a brief confusion for me, and otherwise this novel was pretty straight forward. I could see part of the ending coming but that did not lessen its impact really, so I think voracious and casual readers alike will find themselves enjoying this book.