Review: Boy’s Life

Posted: December 21, 2015 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: Robert McCammon, Horror

Have you ever finished a novel and thought to yourself, “My goodness… that was… special.” Not just good. Not great. Better than that. A book that you immediately know will stay in your top five until the day you die? For me, that book was BOY’S LIFE by Robert McCammon (Amazon).

Now, I’m a pretty big McCammon fan. I’ve loved everything I’ve read of his. THE WOLF’S HOUR (EBR Review) remains one of my favorite novels ever. But even that novel is beat out by BOY’S LIFE. In fact… nearly every novel by every other author I’ve ever read gets beat out by BOY’S LIFE. How do you even review a novel like this?

McCammon’s masterpiece follows eleven-year-old Cory Mackenson from the moment when he and his father are witnesses to a car driving into a lake, and sinking to its bottom… with a dead body at the wheel. For most authors, this inciting incident would drive 100% of the story, and we’d be taken along for a simple murder mystery. McCammon doesn’t. This novel is about a boy’s life. McCammon’s story here is different than the normal reader would expect, and indeed it was very different from all of his other stories leading up until this one. In fact, McCammon has very openly discussed how the publisher felt his readers wouldn’t understand BOY’S LIFE for how different it was. That publisher couldn’t have been more wrong.

BOY’S LIFE is an exceptionally easy novel to relate to. The novel begins with Cory Mackenson–looking back on life–beginning to tell us a story. This story isn’t just about that car that goes into the lake any more than any of our own lives as kids were made up of one singular event. Think about your own life as an eleven year-old. Our lives were full of friends, bikes, pets, school, heartache, love, fear, baseball, ghost stories and a million other things. This is where BOY’S LIFE sets itself apart from all other novels. Rarely has a character ever felt so real to me as a reader. By the time I finished the story, I felt like I knew Cory. Like he and I had been good friends, and we shared the experiences of the book together.

It’s hard to describe this novel to someone without falling back on, “Well, it’s about a boy’s life… just like the title says.” When you say that, people’s eyes gloss over and they start to question your taste in books. But that is what the book is about. From the opening moments of that inciting incident, we follow Cory as he sees movies, meets new people, hangs out with his friends, has dangerous adventures, and struggles with moral and ethical questions that could bury a kid. In a way, it put me in the mind of a more modern Huckleberry Finn where adventure (real or imagined) could be found around any corner.

BOY’S LIFE is a special novel because of how tangible it makes Cory, his friends, his family, and his town feel. I grew up in a small town, and I could practically feel the same wind Cory felt and hear the same sounds of the town that he heard. I could feel what it was like to play baseball like he did, ride a bike like he did, see movies like he did. Laugh like he did. Cry like him too. Because of this connection the novel easily formed with me, I cared more about everything and everyone. The dangers were more real while the triumphs more rewarding.

I’m tying very hard not to discuss any of Cory’s experiences in any detail, because reading them without knowing what is coming is an absolute joy. You just need to sit down and read this book.

In my opinion, BOY'S LIFE is one of the best novels ever. See any quibbling there? No. I didn't think so. Don't doubt my words. Read this novel and weep.

If you pressed me to pick a favorite author ever before reading BOY’S LIFE, it would have been a hard question for me to answer. After? BOY’S LIFE has made that question much, much easier. BOY’S LIFE is a special novel. It is beyond excellent. Beyond a classic.

In my opinion, BOY’S LIFE is one of the best novels ever.

  • Recommended Age: 16+
  • Language: Yup. This ain't no kids book.
  • Violence: Like all McCammon novels, this one has it's grisly moments.
  • Sex: Talked about, but never shown.


  • I’ve loved this one since it was first published. I can’t imagine it ever leaving my top 5 list.

  • Cary Vaughn says:

    I read this when it was first released in ’91. It is STILL one of my all-time favorites.

  • Matt Braymiller says:

    What a well-written, spoiler-free review of what is probably my favorite book ever. I’ve read a great many books I’ve enjoyed immensely. However, it is a rare book that, as you mention, reads in such an accessible, puts-you-in-the-story way. I’ve read this book four or five times, and think it is time for another re-read. Thanks for sharing this with us!

  • R Collier says:

    I’m reading this right now and it’s fantastic. I’m a sucker for books and films about a bunch of kids (think E.T., The Goonies, Stand by Me, IT) and this ticks all the boxes. I love the undertone of supernatural that runs all the way through. Some of it is a hard read (there’s a chapter about Cory and his dog that is heart-breaking) but that doesn’t detract from how good this book is. Give it a go!

  • Tim White says:

    I taught this book to AP seniors in high school for over twenty years; its the best coming of age novel of a young author I’ve read. It’s the .mystery novel Vernon Thaxter couldn’t write. Rick liked my lesson plans and sent me a thank you autographed copy

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