The Boy Lost in the Maze

by | Mar 31, 2023 | Book Review, Fiction

The Boy Lost in the Maze (cover)

Book Details

The Boy Lost in the Maze
Joseph Coelho, illus. Kate Milner. London: Otter-Barry, hb. 978 1 9130 7433 3, 2022, £12.99, 320pp.
Fiction, novel, 14+ years

This is a powerful three-part verse novel by British Children’s Laureate and Carnegie Medal shortlisted author and poet Joseph Coelho.

Teenager Theo, in present-day London, is searching for his long-absent biological father. In his class at school, he learns about the Labours of Theseus, son of King Aegeus of Athens in the Greek legend. Heartened by seeing parallels between himself and the Greek youth he chooses Theseus as the subject for his English Coursework. Theseus, too, is searching for his father. During his maze-like journey and while carrying his father’s sword to use against his enemies, he has to overcome many difficulties and dangers including the fearsome Minotaur who guards the Labyrinth. Theo, meanwhile, has to contend with other challenges such as racism, con men and liars. Burdened with doubts, both youths on their journeys towards manhood and reconciliation courageously choose the most difficult routes on their quests. Readers too have their own maze-like options that send them back and forth in the text.

Long-listed for the Kate Greenaway Medal for her illustrations for Coelho’s verse novel The Girl Who became a Tree (2020), Kate Milner’s illustrations in pen and ink are darkly atmospheric and the decorative headings recall the decorative art of Ancient Greece. On a visit to the British Museum, and as part of his coursework at school, Theo sees on display the Greek bowl on which is depicted Theseus dispatching his enemies and finds it inspiring.   

From Theo’s perspective, his journey must seem just as epic as Theseus’s and takes just as much courage and determination. That Theo’s story, like Theseus’s, is told in poetry gives it an epic quality, while the ending, in both words and pictures, is incredibly moving. Coelho has dedicated his life to making poetry accessible to everyone, and in the book’s page-turning readability, it can be enjoyed by older children and adults alike.


Review by June Hopper Swain