The Boy Who Knew: A Short Novel For Teens About Blessed Carlo Acutis
Just in time for the beatification of Blessed Carlos Acutis, talented British young adult author Corinna Turner has published the first book in her new series of short novels for teens: Friends in High Places. The Boy Who Knew (Carlo Acutis), is another excellent example of Turner’s engaging writing which we have come to love in the I Am Margaret series and the UnSparked series. Turner addresses teens in their own world and their own language. With her recent short novels, she meets Catholic teen readers where they are, taking into account young minds with short attention spans and a hunger for action-packed entertainment.
The plot of The Boy Who Knew does not exactly fall into the action-packed category. Fifteen-year-old protagonist Daniel, has been diagnosed with leukemia and is too sick to engage in physical adventures. He is facing nine agonizing days of waiting for his doctor’s prognosis. Is his leukemia fatal or does he have a chance of survival? Even though his Catholic faith is no more than lukewarm, Daniel seeks refuge from his parent’s despair in his church. Young Father Thomas gives the boy an unusual holy card depicting a teenager in a modern sport’s top and jeans. Daniel finds that he has a lot in common with the “almost blessed” Carlo Acutis who died of leukemia at age fifteen. While praying a novena to Blessed Carlo during his nine days of waiting for his prognosis, Daniel soon finds himself on an adventure of the spirit as he discovers the life story of the young Saint.
The Boy Who Knew does not take more than an hour to read, making the book appealing to reluctant readers. Teens who might think that Saints are people, who lived long ago in a remote world too strange for them to relate to, will meet in Carlo Acutis a boy who could very well be living next door. Along with Daniel, they will find that Carlos was an ordinary kid who loved computer games and even Pokemon! They will also find that such a boy, a boy just like them, can be holy. Each day, Daniel recites the prayers of the novena followed by meditations based on the amazingly profound insights of the teenage Saint.
Like Daniel, I was deeply impressed by this quote: “All people are born as originals, but many die as photocopies.” In his words, Carlo Acutis showed astonishing insight into our fallen nature. The meditations inspire Daniel to search the internet for information about Carlo. He begins to form a true friendship with the dead boy. As his health deteriorates, Daniel’s faith grows stronger, his fear of death diminishes, and he finds new hope. His spiritual adventure culminates in a visit to Assisi where he is invited to attend the beatification mass of Blessed Carlo Acutis. There Daniel meets the dead, or not-so-dead, Carlo in his amazingly incorrupt body. Back home in London, Daniel has not only found the strength to face his prognosis but to support his family with his new-found faith.
Corinna Turner’s masterful storytelling makes this journey of a soul as compelling as a physical adventure. The story is brimming with profound Catholic teachings. Daniel learns about the role of his Guardian Angel, the importance of confession, about the fruits of adoration, and more. He learns to think less about his own problems and to care about the people around him. He learns empathy for his parents and eventually leads them back to their faith. Daniel's spiritual awakening is described in beautiful poetic passages:: “The more I find out about him, the more hopeful he makes me feel. Like I’m opening the door to a dark empty room inside me and the more I open the door, the more light streams in, revealing beautiful things I didn’t know were there.”
The book includes excellent discussion questions, some sources for further study and more bonus features.
Blessed Carlo Acutis was beatified October 10, 2020, in Assisi, Italy. He has been declared Patron of the Internet. I cannot imagine a Saint more relevant to today’s youth. Corinna Turner’s masterful little book could not have been more timely to bring this story to modern teens. As so often, I found the insights I gained in this teen book just as relevant for adults. I’m looking forward to more Friends in High Places.