I received a free eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Author: Heather Smith
Rating: 4/5
TW: Child abuse, ableist language, sexual assault of a minor, suicide, queerphobic language, abuse of a First Nations person.

THE AGONY OF BUN O’KEEFE by Heather Smith follows Bun O’Keefe, a 14 year old girl who has had limited contact with the outside world, immediately after her hoarder mother tells her to their home. Within the first few pages, Bun meets Busker Boy, an Inuit musician who takes her to his boarding house when he realizes Bun has nowhere else to go. At the boarding house, Bun finally finds a family in the interesting cast of roomates- Chris/Cher (a drag queen), Big Eyes (a Catholic school girl who ran away from her mother to avoid becoming a nun), and Chef (a pot-smoking gourmet chef).

This is a short book and the beginning of it felt very off to me. In order to really enjoy this book, you have to suspend disbelief. Is it logical that a 20-something year old man would randomly take a girl off the streets and have it be totally innocent? In the greater scheme of things, it would be nice to believe that’s what would happen… but the real world news tells us otherwise.

While there are a few light-hearted moments in this book, the title doesn’t include the words ‘the agony’ for no reason. Bun has lived with her hoarder mom alone since her dad walked out on the family. The mother is described as a slovenly woman who weighs 300 pounds and roosts in a pile of garbage bags. In all honesty, this made me roll my eyes. Will there ever come a time when authors don’t make their villains out to be fat and lazy?

Without ruining the story, do be aware that when Bun goes to the boarding house, she is severely underweight (to the point that she does not have a period), has untreated asthma, and still wears the glasses she got when she was five. This girl has clearly been neglected and abused.

Other trigger warnings include: the suicide of one of the roommates, sexual abuse of a minor at the hands of a much older adult, queerphobic language (f*gg*t), and a fight between two characters that includes queerphobic language (this is challenged in text and the offending character admits their wrong and apologizes).

This isn’t an easy story to stomach. It is, however, a wonderful story about wounded people sticking together.


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