I absolutely adore reading - my love for books has had a huge impact on my life! I'm going to grad school to be a children's/YA librarian.
For a 16-year-old boy out in the world alone for the first time, every day's an education in the hard work and boredom of migrant labor; every day teaches him something more about friendship, or hunger, or profanity, or lust--always lust. He learns how a poker game, or hitching a ride, can turn deadly.
He discovers the secret sadness and generosity to be found on a lonely farm in the middle of nowhere. Then he joins up with a carnival and becomes a grunt, running a ride and shilling for the geek show. He's living the hard carny life and beginning to see the world through carny eyes. He's tough. Cynical. By the end of the summer he's pretty sure he knows it all. Until he meets Ruby. (source)
I knew going in that this was not my kind of book. I've read exactly one book by Gary Paulsen, Hatchet, and after reading that, I determined that his books just aren't for me. There's only so much wilderness and guy stuff that this wannabe princess can take! Literally the only reason why I picked up this book was because it's on my US of YA challenge and I'm determined to at least attempt to read every book on that list. And to be honest, I actually liked The Beet Fields better than I expected to... but still, not my kind of book.
The Beet Fields is nowhere near as outdoorsy as Hatchet, thank goodness. This is the story of a 16-year-old boy who runs away from home in the 1950s. It's the story of how he learns to survive on his own. It's an interesting concept, actually, and I think that's what propelled me through the book - that and the fact that the book's only 160 pages long and it's written in hugeeee font. But there's really no point to the book other than for the boy to become a man and that has just never been my thing. The book is very raw, though in a different way from Hatchet. Hatchet was raw because it was about the main character doing whatever was necessary to survive; The Beet Fields is raw because it's the boy's first unfiltered encounter with the real world. So the fact that it was a bit rough around the edges worked - but again, it simply wasn't my taste.
One thing that I really didn't understand about this book is why it's called The Beet Fields. The boy only spends the first third of the book working in the beet fields, if that. He also drives a tractor, runs away from the law, hitchhikes, works at a carnival... he does a lot in those 160 pages. So why focus on the beet fields for the title? It doesn't really detract from the story, but it did confuse me a bit.
I think that The Beet Fields is a well-written young adult novel that a lot of guys might relate to. But I certainly couldn't, and to be honest, looking back, I don't think that many of the guys who I went to high school with would read this. The few who did read were into books like The World According to Garp or Catch-22. The guys I knew who read would probably have looked at this as beneath them, and the subject matter seems a bit mature for middle-grade boys, though I do think that they might gravitate toward the story. So I honestly don't know who I'd recommend this to. All I can really say is that this book was not for me, but it is well-written and I'm sure that there are some people out there who would like it, even though I didn't.