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The Boy on the Bus: A Novel Hardcover – February 25, 2003


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; First Edition edition (February 25, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743242203
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743242202
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,793,018 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

One afternoon, Vermont housewife Meg discovers that the boy on the school bus outside her door is almost, but not quite, her eight-year-old son, Charlie. It's a typical X-Files scenario, but in the hands of first-time novelist Schupack it becomes an acute psychological study of alienated ex-urban family life. Meg's panic recalls her aloof, restless husband from his job in Canada and her bratty, rebellious teenage daughter from boarding school, but neither they nor the local sheriff nor the family doctor can verify Charlie's authenticity. Unlike the old, asthmatic Charlie, who was both an emotional anchor and a ball-and-chain to Meg, the new Charlie is more mature, robust and adventurous, threatening to follow his father and sister out of the house, untether Meg from her caretaker role and force her to confront her own thwarted ambitions. Schupack writes in a restrained, naturalistic style. Her characters are sharply observed, and she has an ear for familial bickering and the idioms of male withdrawal and teen exasperation ("What's so wrong with the little creep now?"). The central figure of Charlie is not as well realized; he is less a character than a symbol of familial estrangement and a projection of Meg's dread of the confines of marriage and motherhood. As a plot engine, the mystery of Charlie's identity sometimes feels forced (can't someone run a DNA test on this kid?), but the predicament allows Schupack to draw a subtle and chilling portrait of that much scrutinized figure, the postfeminist wife.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Nothing bizarre ever happens in the tiny Vermont town where Meg lives with her husband, Jeff, and their two children: Katie, the recalcitrant teenager, and eight-year-old Charlie, an asthmatic. Then one day Charlie just doesn't seem to be himself any more, although, as Jeff tells Meg, "It sure looks enough like him." In her eerie debut novel, Schupack doesn't struggle unduly over whether the boy on the bus is actually Charlie or not but instead perceptively explores the multiple possibilities for Meg's reaction to his startling presence in their hitherto-normal life. As a mother of an asthmatic, she feels burdened by the corresponding constant "fear, love, guilt, exhaustion, need." She is also bored with her emotionally distant husband and frustrated at her inability to sustain her artistic career. So has she finally "let go of the reins"? Or has Charlie so gradually outgrown his asthma that Meg, straitjacketed by routine, is just now seeing the transformation? "You're the mother, you know what's best," Jeff tells her, but the identity conundrum lingers, remaining unresolved even with the novel's chilling denouement. Deborah Donovan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

More About the Author

Deborah Schupack lives in the Hudson Valley, on an old-fashioned cul-de-sac much like the one she explores in her latest novel, SYLVAN STREET (minus the windfall one million dollars). She is also the author of THE BOY ON THE BUS, a critically acclaimed debut that James Patterson called, "my favorite book this year--an incredible page-turning idea, written with grace, style, and deep, true emotion."

Her nonfiction has appeared in, among other publications, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Redbook, seventeen and Working Woman. She has taught creative writing at Yale, Vermont College, NYU, the New School and Breadloaf's Young Writers Conference. In addition, she runs King Street Creative, Inc., a marketing copywriting company specializing in higher education, heath care and nonprofits.

Customer Reviews

No story, no sympathetic characters, no ending.
Cheryl
It's unusual for me not to finish a book, but after reading the first chapter twice, I had to admit I just "didn't get it".
A. Wood
Sure, he almost looks like Charlie, almost acts like Charlie, almost knows the things Charlie should know, but not quite.
Anna Klein

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Anna Klein on March 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The boy that Meg put on the school bus this Vermont morning was her asthmatic 8-year-old son, Charlie. The boy who comes home in the afternoon is not. Sure, he almost looks like Charlie, almost acts like Charlie, almost knows the things Charlie should know, but not quite. As Meg sits on the bus studying this boy, the bus driver, Sandy, tells her, "We looked back out the window and there you were, reappearing at the front door when you had been standing there only a second ago." The sheriff arrives, with questions. Meg's partner, Jeff, is summoned from his job in Toronto. Meg's daughter, Katie, a 13-year-old very full of herself, is retrieved from boarding school. The boy is taken to Charlie's doctor for tests, where it's discovered he no longer has asthma. He's taller, stronger, more adventurous. Everyone asks the same question: Is this Charlie? And no one knows.
Because the book jacket made the mistake of calling THE BOY ON THE BUS a mystery, I expected a different sort of ending and was disappointed by the lack of resolution. Had Schupack used Meg's identity crisis to resolve the questions, I would have been satisfied, but as it was I enjoyed every moment up until the last several pages, then felt cheated. Still, this little novel is an excellent psychological portrait of a family in limbo. All of the characters except Charlie are well drawn (Charlie comes across as shadowy at best, but perhaps that's intended), the prose is beautiful and descriptive, the dialogue realistic, and the resulting impression very surreal.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on March 8, 2003
Format: Hardcover
THE BOY ON THE BUS, Deborah Shupack's first novel, opens with a school bus stopping to drop its final passenger at an upper-middle-class home in rural Vermont. But when Meg Landry climbs aboard to greet her eight-year-old son, who remains in his seat, she realizes that something is amiss. Mother and child don't recognize each other. "This was not her son," Meg thinks. "He looked quite a bit like Charlie�But there were differences."
Meg is at a loss as to how to explain the situation and feels quite awkward in front of Sandy, the school bus driver on whom she has an incipient crush. She is overwhelmed and has an eerie sense of powerlessness. Soon, several townspeople, including the sheriff, are gathered around the bus and, in the unspoken pressure to keep things moving along normally, Meg invites the young stranger into her house.
The cool bravura of Schupak's first chapter leaves the reader feeling a weird chill and a gnawing curiosity. The chill lingers throughout the book's terse 215 pages. The curiosity, to a certain extent, is left unrewarded. Charlie is not a Stepford child, there are no evil experiments taking place in small town New England and no abductions or exorcisms ensue. Instead, with creeping subtlety and creepy insistence, THE BOY ON THE BUS evolves into a compelling meditation on personal identity and the degree to which family members can never know each other --- and themselves. The novel, even in its brevity, is much more like a Twilight Zone episode than a plot-thick airport paperback.
For some readers, the lack of a puzzle-perfect solution to the mysteries of THE BOY ON THE BUS will make the novel less than satisfying.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Tristan MacAvery on December 13, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Deborah Schupack's first effort, the novel "The Boy on the Bus," is one of those painfully self-indulgent and pointless "artistic works" which plague the bookshelves from time to time. Beginning with an interesting premise -- a mother's creeping certainty that this boy on the bus is a close approximation of, but is not truly, her son -- Schupack takes us on a 215 page slog through a quagmire of psychological pretension which ultimately, as Shakespeare put it, signifies nothing.

Stewing in her analytical juices, dragging the reader through page after tedious page of perversely drawn analogy and pretentiously clever asides, Schupack forgot the single most important aspect of telling a story: It needs to have a bloody point! Hints are dropped all over the place, each one capable of leading to a satisfying explanation and a powerful resolution to the facts in evidence; alas, Schupack seems not to have known what she wanted her book to be when it grew up.

This is the second problem with this work: It's about a hundred or more pages too long. If the story actually had a point and an ending, it could be quite reasonably condensed into an hour-long episode of "The Outer Limits" (meaning about 44 minutes of screen time). What I'm most reminded of is the cover of an issue of "Writer's Digest" (a magazine which, some 20 years ago, was worth reading and taking seriously), whereupon a sad-faced lady had "a short story, small, little cash worth," while her happy-faced twin had "a novel, big, worth a lot of money." There are times when the essence of a story simply cannot support more than about 20,000 words of expression.
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