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, but Henry’s stubborn determination knows no bounds. Mad Boy is at once an antic adventure and a 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.
Make no mistake, Henry’s is a hard-luck story ... We’re told on the first page of Mad Boy that Henry Phipps, the boy of the title, is 10 years old and that he’s running because he thinks his brother, Franklin, has been executed as a deserter from the U.S. Army in Bladensburg, Maryland, in 1814. From that moment forward, he never stops moving and, like Ulysses, his goal seems to move from him as he flees toward it ... a page-turner that stands up to scrutiny ... paints the picture of an America that is not conducive to reasoned consideration ... a novel that will make the reader wonder, “Who is mad in a world at war?”
You have to love a book that starts like this: A cow falls through the roof of a house, landing on Mother. She dies, but her voice lives on. This book has it all...gripping battlefield scenes and descriptions of poverty and greed, along with bags of purloined gold coins and the bombardment of Fort McHenry, while somebody is writing a poem that will become the national anthem. Despite its sparseness, “Mad Boy” is a complicated tale filled with a cast of a dozen characters. Mad Boy is a finely honed literary achievement...and as clever as it is memorable.
One would need to search for other authors...that incorporate historical recreations of war – the terror and the tragedy – and yet retain the human element of family and relationships that Nick blends. Nick Arvin is an author of significance and importance in our literary scene. Digest him slowly.