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Just a Regular Boy


Just a Regular Boy

With her latest introspective novel, JUST A REGULAR BOY, Catherine Ryan Hyde takes us on a journey that we'd never imagine taking ourselves --- going with a survivalist and his five-year-old son into the wilds of northern Idaho to survive what he believes is a coming apocalypse.

Watching vicariously as Roy drives Remy away from everything he's ever known and loved --- including his best friend, Lester --- we feel Remy's fear, and our heart breaks for him. He’s frustrated because he can't call Lester (no cell service) or write him (no mailboxes). So he asks his father what they do have at this place they are approaching. Roy heartlessly explains, "Son, up there in our new home, we'll have the most important thing a person can have: freedom."

"The story is beautifully conceived and executed and incredibly touching. As with all of Hyde's characters, we really come to empathize with Remy and Anne."

Apparently that freedom extends to Remy not being treated as a child. Roy says that they are equal, and Remy should not call him "Dad." As most of us know, five-year-olds do not care about equality; they want, more than anything, to feel safe and loved. Remy feels neither of these essentials in this new place they are calling home. In their tiny cabin, which is the size of a one-car garage, there is only room for bunk beds and a wood stove.

Roy is basically a cruel man. When Remy is inspecting a creek near their home, watching the fish, he leans over to drink the water. Roy frightens him, so he falls into the freezing water as his father laughs. That's the beginning of Remy's "instruction." Roy doesn't teach him mathematics or how to read and write. He teaches Remy about the evil of man and that he should be afraid of all other people, because they will want to kill him.

But Remy also sees that his father isn’t all-knowing and hasn't prepared for everything. Soon after their move, Remy outgrows his shoes. Roy never thought to buy extras in larger sizes. So he goes barefoot. In the winter, he wears layers of socks with plastic bags over his feet. But even when his father does make a supply run in their early years there, he doesn't buy Remy shoes. Yet he always seems to have cigarettes handy.

A year later, there is a wildfire, and the smoke causes Roy to believe that the "thing" he fears has begun. Remy walks to the road, which his father had told him not to do, and finds out it's "only" a forest fire. While Roy believes his paranoid fantasies, Remy isn't quite sold on that idea. Another year or so later, we watch in horror as Remy falls from a tree, breaking his ribs, when trying to recover their last fishing hook. In spite of his extreme pain, he knows that he needs to buck up and conceal his injuries because his father won't care. Even though they are running out of food and have no fishing hooks left, Roy refuses to go for supplies, claiming that there might not be any. Then he disappears.

By now, Remy has spent years listening to his father tell him how dangerous strangers are. He believes they will kill him, but he is also in danger of starving. There are difficult decisions that this child (he doesn't know how old he is --- perhaps eight or nine?) must make.

There is another important character here, although as the title might suggest, Remy is the center of the story. Through sections of the book titled "Remy" and "Anne," we learn about each of them. Anne is married and has two children, both of whom she and her husband, Chris, adopted after fostering. Chris does not want any more foster kids, but Anne feels the need to help another child. When she hears about a possible foster child who is literally living in the wild and has not been caught yet, she becomes determined to help him.

Both Remy and Anne have trauma in their past that together they will begin to understand and overcome. At the same time, the whole family is forced to consider the fear that infects the survivalists and wonder if that fear is perhaps not completely misplaced. How much weight do we put on our fears of the possibility of civil war in this country? That a crazed shooter will show up at our school, library, synagogue, church or shopping center? That a new virus will kill us? Do we allow those fears to incapacitate us?

The story is beautifully conceived and executed and incredibly touching. As with all of Hyde's characters, we really come to empathize with Remy and Anne. And as much as we want them to have a happily ever after, we've also been forced to confront the very real possibility that such a future is not for them. We do live in a world of mass shootings, car crashes, COVID and other events that cause premature deaths --- yet most of us live as if we will continue on. As Remy learns, we need other people. We must face our fears and still live our lives to the fullest. Because to do otherwise is unthinkable.

Reviewed by Pamela Kramer on May 12, 2023

Just a Regular Boy
by Catherine Ryan Hyde

  • Publication Date: May 2, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1662504357
  • ISBN-13: 9781662504358