By: Lorenzo DeStefano
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Publication Date: June 7, 2022
Reviewed by: Risah Salazar
Review Date: May 10, 2022
Wanting a better life, not only for himself but also for his family, Vijay Pallan travels from Chettipattu to the capital Chennai. He and his family are Dalits, untouchables, people belonging to the lowest caste in India. One would think that in the modern world, this kind of discrimination would no longer exist, but such is not the case for the Pallans. His actual motivation to get out of his hometown is not even his own dream - it’s for his twin sisters’ dowries. His family is getting more anxious every day that Amala and Sakhti, despite their good looks and warm dispositions, would never find their respective husbands because they do not have money. So, with everything that he’s got, even though that’s not really much other than a whole lot of courage, and hesitant goodbyes from his family, he makes this hopeful move.
Without a relative or any contact person in Chennai, the moment Vijay steps out of the bus, he roams around and starts looking for a job. When he made this decision, he was sure that there would be something here for him. But looking at the job vacancies in a newspaper, the positions look odd to him - he has never even heard of these kinds of jobs before! Tired, as the day approaches its end, he takes refuge in one of the benches in a children’s park. Vijay falls asleep there, still with no concrete plans, just a huge aspiration that tomorrow would present something better for him.
In the middle of the night, something noisy and painful wakes him up. A civet cat has attacked Vijay and he is now heavily bleeding. A nice man named Santhana Gopalan helps him out, takes him home to mend his wounds, and gives him something to eat. He even lets Vijay stay in his house for a few days until he has fully recuperated. Vijay could not believe his luck - what are the odds that he would find an extremely kind man in the capital who’d eventually offer him a job.
Mr. Gopalan soon introduces Vijay to his boss, the owner of Better Life Employment Agency, Narahari Gupta. Together, these two men lure Vijay to an opportunity of a lifetime in London. The moment Vijay met Mr. Gupta, everything happened so fast - he was given a breakdown of his fees when he got there, he underwent a lot of tests to assure his health and capabilities, then he was asked to sign some documents despite the contents not being explained to him well. The only thing that’s clear is that he will be sent abroad to serve an Indian family there. Vijay is promised that he doesn’t need to do or pay the employment agency anything. In fact, he’s the one who will be receiving 40,000 rupees as an advance when he accepts the job. When his test results came in and everything looked fine, Vijay was given instructions on what to do the moment he steps out of Better Life Employment Agency until he arrives at Heathrow Airport. With heartfelt thanks to the men who gave him this wonderful opportunity, as well as to the gods he’s always prayed to, he arrives in London with nothing but naive hope in his eyes. What Vijay didn’t know was that his life is indeed about to take a huge turn - but not for the better.
Even though Vijay’s story is fictional, it’s widely known that human trafficking is something that still happens in our world today, despite global efforts to stop it. These traffickers are taking advantage of a lot of innocent people who want nothing but to truly make their lives better. This makes Lorenzo DeStefano’s House Boy a painfully realistic expository. He discusses a lot of existing social and environmental problems and never lets you forget them through his haunting storytelling. His characters are as human as they can be - complex and deeply motivated.
In terms of world-building, DeStefano is consistently amazing. From Chettipattu to Chennai to London, he takes the readers not only into the character’s journey but also into the setting where it happens. House Boy, despite the harsh realities that it tackles, gives a vivid imagery of the towns and cities involved in Vijay’s travels. The book has just the right amount of details. Unlike other books, the string of facts does not bore you, it actually makes the story even more interesting. There are several typos found that make the narrative a bit confusing sometimes, but after a few re-reads, the reader would surely get what was supposed to be written. In terms of plot, the story could still be improved. Some parts seem rushed, not having any build-up at all. There are also parts that leave the reader with questions, hoping to get (non-existent) answers in the end. But apart from that, House Boy, overall, is a great read that would ground you and make you check your privilege.
Quill says: House Boy is a page-turner that is both enthralling and horrifying.
For more information on House Boy, please visit the book's website at: http://houseboynovel.com