Review: The Agony Of Bun O’Keefe: Very Diverse Middle Grade about Very Heavy Topics

General rating: ★★★☆
Diversity rating: ★★★★ (POC, LGBT+: gay, drag queen (does that count??), minority: native American, disability/disorder: OCD)

The Agony of Bun O’Keefe by Heather Smith is, I believe, a middle grade contemporary. It tells the story of fourteen-year-old Bun, who is one of the most interesting characters I’ve ever read about. The book is not only really good, it’s also very diverse.

The Agony of Bun O’Keefe by Heather Smith51il7haa5pl

Set in 1980s Newfoundland, The Agony of Bun O’Keefe is the story of a 14-year-old girl who runs away to the city and is taken in by a street musician who lives with an eclectic cast of characters: a pot smoking dishwasher with culinary dreams; a drag queen with a tragic past; a Catholic school girl desperately trying to reinvent herself; and a man who Bun is told to avoid at all cost.

After the mother of the main character Bun tells her to leave, she does. She ends up on the streets, meeting an older boy, who she calls Busker Boy. They become friends and she moves in with him. She gets to know the other people who live in his home, including a drag queen, a cook and a girl she names Big Eyes. Over the book the friendship between these people grows and Bun is taken in like a little sister.

Although this book is marketed as middle grade (or isn’t it?), the topics that this book covers are way heavier than the average middle-grade book. This book covers topics varying from loss, underweight and even sexual assault and abuse. I am not sure whether I would recommend this book to any 12-ish year olds, since these topics are not really pre-teen friendly.

“Do you really not have any goals?” he asked.
“Not that I can think of.”
“I thought everyone had goals, even if it was just to get through the day.”
“That’s not a goal,” I said. “It’s an inevitability. Unless you get hit by a car or something.”

Bun has always lived with her obsessive compulsive hoarder mother, but after her dad left, she stopped feeling. She became distant from all emotions. She didn’t go to school and all she knows is from books and movies. She is surprisingly smart, that is, she knows a lot, but socially her skills are less good. As the characters in the book fell in love with her, I did too. She takes everything literally and doesn’t understand jokes or metaphors. During the book, there is a large character development going on. Bun learns about her own emotions and learns to function socially. But like the characters in this book would say, Bun shouldn’t change herself, because she is perfect the way she is.

“Don’t ever apologize to me for sharing the thoughts that you have in your head. They’re honest and real and, more importantly, they’re you.”

The writing style was quite confusing sometimes. I don’t know if it’s because of my edition, but there often was no line break between different characters talking and often I didn’t know who was speaking.

“We’re all damaged in a way. But it’s nothing that can’t be fixed. You just have to kick out the dents from the inside.”

I am giving this book 3.5 stars because it was very interesting to read about such a character and about all the troubles she uncovered. The book was very diverse, had great main and side characters, showed amazing friendships and felt very real. I’m not giving it 4 stars because it lacked a feeling I can’t really describe, I missed the feeling of being dragged into the story. I really liked it, but I didn’t love it. Overall I would recommend this book to 14+ year old readers who want to read more diverse books and are interested in reading about quirky characters in a setting that is different from any other.

12 thoughts on “Review: The Agony Of Bun O’Keefe: Very Diverse Middle Grade about Very Heavy Topics

  1. Surely this can’t be middle grade? Regardless, adding to my Goodreads list. I read “Don’t Breathe A Word” by Holly Cupala, also about a teenager who leaves home. I loved that book! Though I’m sure that other than the leaving home aspect, that’s where the similarities would end. Thanks for the review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am starting to doubt myself now, maybe it is young adult?? or something else? It’s a bit vague. You’re welcome! I hope you like it!


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