Summary and book reviews of The Agony of Bun O'Keefe by Heather Smith

The Agony of Bun O'Keefe

by Heather Smith

The Agony of Bun O'Keefe by Heather Smith X
The Agony of Bun O'Keefe by Heather Smith
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2017, 224 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 26, 2019, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky

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About this Book

Book Summary

Little Miss Sunshine meets Room in this quirky, heartwarming story of friendship, loyalty and discovery.

It's Newfoundland, 1986. Fourteen-year-old Bun O'Keefe has lived a solitary life in an unsafe, unsanitary house. Her mother is a compulsive hoarder, and Bun has had little contact with the outside world. What she's learned about life comes from the random books and old VHS tapes that she finds in the boxes and bags her mother brings home. Bun and her mother rarely talk, so when Bun's mother tells Bun to leave one day, she does. Hitchhiking out of town, Bun ends up on the streets of St. John's, Newfoundland.

Fortunately, the first person she meets is Busker Boy, a street musician who senses her naivety and takes her in. Together they live in a house with an eclectic cast of characters: Chef, a hotel dishwasher with culinary dreams; Cher, a drag queen with a tragic past; Big Eyes, a Catholic school girl desperately trying to reinvent herself; and The Landlord, a man who Bun is told to avoid at all cost.

Through her experiences with her new roommates, and their sometimes tragic revelations, Bun learns that the world extends beyond the walls of her mother's house and discovers the joy of being part of a new family - a family of friends who care.

1

She yelled, "Go on! Get out!" So I did. It wasn't easy. The path to the door was filled in again. I tried to keep it clear. But it was like shoveling in a snowstorm. There was only so much I could pile up on either side before it started caving in again. Not that I left the house much.

At one point I had to turn sideways and suck in. I wondered how she did it. She was over three hundred pounds. As I inched forward I saw frozen smiles through a clear plastic bin. Barbie Dolls, $10 As Is.

I knew without looking there'd be some without limbs.

I tripped on a lamp and fell on a bike. She didn't even laugh. The only sound was the tick-tick-tick of the bike's spinning wheel. I watched till it slowed to a stop.

I took one last look at her before I disappeared behind a mountain of junk. She was nestled into a pile of garbage bags, a cup of tea balanced on her chest, and I wondered, how will she get up without me?

Boxes and bags lined the walls. As I squeezed down...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Heather Smith keeps Bun's journey of self-discovery grounded in the real world, steeped in the late 1980s, with references to President Reagan's Iran-Contra scandal, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, and Duran Duran, to name a few. No large or sudden revelations rise from the pages of The Agony of Bun O'Keefe. Instead, this is a story of a make-shift family trying to get by in their daily lives, welcoming Bun into their fold, and helping her become acquainted with the ways of the world. The newness of every little thing she encounters forces us, the readers, to focus consciously on what we take for granted.   (Reviewed by Rory L. Aronsky).

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Media Reviews

School Library Journal
Teens will truly dive into Bun’s mind and her surroundings through her understanding of the world… A nuanced, well-done novel about tough topics that deserves a place in most collections.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Smith's talent lies in deftly handling numerous heavy topics: suicide, sexual abuse, neglect, AIDS, homophobia, transphobia, and racism, without making them feel forced or gratuitous - they're facts of life. Bun O'Keefe will settle comfortably at home in readers' hearts.

Quill & Quire (Canada)
Starred Review. There's an abundance of humour both subtle and overt, and a shattering of stereotypes and tropes ... This is a book that grabs readers by the heart and the head.

CM: Canadian Review of Materials
Smith's strength is her attention to setting details and character development ... Recommended.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The National Film Board of Canada

The title of Heather Smith's novel, The Agony of Bun O'Keefe, is inspired by a 27-minute documentary called The Agony of Jimmy Quinlan [see full film below], which was produced by the National Film Board of Canada in 1978. The film chronicles the effort of Quinlan, one of 5,000 people living on the streets in Montreal, to get sober.

For Bun O'Keefe, the protagonist in Smith's novel, The Agony of Jimmy Quinlan provides fortification against a world she does not yet know. She has memorized the documentary script and even the various intonations of the narrator, and repeats bits in moments when she's not sure what to do or how to react – kind of like Jimmy Quinlan trying to face down the world and forge a path of ...

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