When I was a kid, I never EVER wanted to read books with any type of sci-fi/fantasy element to them. So when my sister (Hi Carrie!) tried to talk me in to reading Beloved Benjamin is Waiting and told me it was about a girl who talks to aliens, I was all ‘Hell No!’ But luckily Carrie is one persistent bitch, and finally convinced me to read it, and damn, was I glad I did. Also, about a year and a half ago, I emailed Carrie and told her I had this idea that I was going to re-read all my old kids and YA books and write a blog about it. And the first thing she said was “You have to find Beloved Benjamin is Waiting.” I’ve been looking for it ever since (it’s out of print and a bitch to find!) and luckily last month, some kind soul posted it on paperbackswap. So here we are. The review for Beloved Benjamin, a year and a half in the making.
Beloved Benjamin is Waiting is the story of twelve year old Lucinda Gratz. Lucinda is the youngest of four children in a highly abusive household. Lucinda’s older siblings include Cherry, who is in college and works as a live-in nanny for a wealthy family, Dean, who is in reform school, and Joel, a genius who recently left home to attend a boarding prep school. Dean, in his haste to get sent to reform school instead of juvie (for crimes that are never explained) ratted out a bunch of his friends, and the remaining “gang” is out to get Lucinda. Before Joel leaves for school, he and Lucinda have to decide where Lucinda can hide when Dean’s gang comes after her or when her parents’ fights get out of control. You see, the fighting starts between the parents, but escalates and it’s the kids who end up injured. The best solution they can come up with is the cemetery across the street. There is a small gate on a side street that Lucinda can just squeeze through and an abandoned caretakers cottage that can provide shelter.
Within days of Joel leaving, Lucinda’s parents start fighting. And once they start throwing things, Lucinda knows she has to go to her hiding place. She sneaks across the street and gets in to the cemetery without a problem. She makes it in to the caretaker’s cottage and is happy to find it unlocked, not to mention warm and dry. Lucinda explores it a little, it’s mostly filled with broken tombstones, but it does have a bedroom with a bed in it. So that’s where Lucinda sleeps.
The next day, another fight and another need for the cemetery cottage. With these fights getting so bad, and Lucinda spending a lot of time hiding out, she starts studying hard core and pulling up her grades, which had previously been only average. Teachers call her out and praise her, much to the consternation of some of the kids in her class who had been involved in Dean’s old gang. So they start chasing after her and frightening her. But Lucinda, obviously, doesn’t tell her parents. Who likely wouldn’t give two shits anyway.
One day, Lucinda’s mom tells her she’s leaving town temporarily, and leaving Lucinda alone. She’ll be gone for a week, ten days tops. Lucinda asks about her dad, and mom says he left for good. Mom is counting on Lucinda to take care of herself and leaves her grocery money. Mom asks Lucinda not to say anything to Cherry or Joel unless she’s been gone longer than ten days. Lucinda, having heard horror stories about kids in foster care, agrees. Within a day, Dean’s old gang discovers that mom has left and breaks in to the house and sets up party HQ there. Lucinda grabs as much stuff as she can, and sets up house in the cemetery cottage.
Lucinda wants to learn more about the cemetery, particularly one broken statute that is in the cottage for a child called Beloved Benjamin. So when her history teacher announces a local history project, Lucinda decides to write about the cemetery. It’s a genius idea, because Lucinda befriends the main security guard, John Simon, who is fast and loose with telling Lucinda ALL about the security at the cemetery. And Lucinda learns she’s quite safe in the caretaker’s cottage. She also learns that Benjamin was a little boy who’d died of diptheria, and when his statute broke, it was so beautiful that there had been a collection to replace it, though the old broken one sits in the caretakers cottage.
Several days in to her stay at the cottage, Lucinda notices a weird hum coming from the broken statue of Beloved Benjamin. She thinks there is some kind of electrical current. As she sits to do her homework every night, she begins to read aloud. At one point when she’s done, the statue talks. “Don’t stop,” it asks her. She initially freaks out, but calms down surprisingly quickly to discover that there are beings in another galaxy who’ve been trying to contact other intelligent life in the universe. Lucinda is quick to become friendly with the alien creature, who she calls Benjamin. Benjamin explains where he is from, what form he takes and how he communicates. He isn’t quite sure what planet he’s reached, but Lucinda gets a shitload of astronomy books from the library and reads them aloud to the statute. She also explains her situation, having been abandoned by her parents and fearing for her life from the gang. She finds a sympathetic ear with Benjamin.
One night, while she is sleeping, Lucinda is awoken by fire sirens. She sneaks out of the cottage and through some bushes to the cemetery gate. She sees that her house is burning down. Neighbors tell the firemen that a mother and daughter may be inside and Lucinda sees the firemen say they couldn’t find anyone. Not wanting to give herself away, Lucinda goes back to the cottage. The next morning, she finds John Simon, the security guard, crying in his booth. He was sure she’d died in the fire. Lucinda admits that her parents left and that a bunch of punk kids had been chasing her and had taken over the house.
John Simon is very sympathetic and sits with Lucinda as she calls her older sister, Cherry. The family Cherry nannies for call the police and things work out in the end. Mom and dad never come back, and Lucinda is sent to a foster family, who are very nice to her. At the end, Lucinda only tells Joel, the only person she is certain will believe her, about Beloved Benjamin.
- Here’s the thing about this book. The title and the inside blurb seem to make it seem like a book about alien contact. But the alien storyline is completely secondary. At its heart, it’s a sad book about a frightened little girl who has been abandoned and is looking for understanding.
- It’s terrible that Lucinda truly believes that her mother, deep down, does care because, “there was almost never a time when there wasn’t something for her [Lucinda] to eat.” Well, if that’s all it takes to be a caring parent, I’m way over-doing it with my son. Here I am playing endless games of Candy Land and reading the same four books over and over and over, buying organic milk, carefully applying ointment to his eczema……(etc.) and all I need to be doing is making sure that he almost always has something to eat.
- Another notch on the crappy parenting belt of Lucinda’s parents – she has to keep the scissors hidden.
- When Lucinda’s mom leaves, Lucinda asks if dad is coming back and her mom replies, “No, he’s gone for good.” And I kind of think mom killed him and she went on the run….but that story line goes no where. We never actually find out what happened to the parents.
- Mom also wonders, “How I managed to have so many straight-backed kids, I’ll never know. It does get to me some times.” Shut up, Lucinda’s mom. You’ve been, at best, a half-assed parent and you ended up with three out of your four kids turning out right. That’s a fucking miracle and don’t let it get to you. You should be relieved you didn’t have four little Deans.
- One of the greatest things about this book is the pacing. The Benjamin plot-line isn’t even introduced until just over half way through the book. And that might bother some people, but I love when books are like that. I love getting settled into a book and meeting characters and getting a feel for the setting before major shit happens.
- If you’ve ever read this book, PLEASE leave a comment, because I’ve never actually met someone else (besides my sister, natch) who has read it and I’d love to hear from anyone who has!
- If you haven’t read this book, and you manage to come across it in a used book store…pick it up. Because like I said, it’s out of print and it’s a good read!