Nine-year-old Michele lives in a village with only four houses. He runs with three other children, one of whom is a bully, one of whom is the rich kid, and one of whom is the girl. When Michele discovers a boy naked and chained in a hole during a day of adventure, he does nothing. The sight of the boy begins to work on him, however, and he returns surreptitously to give him water, food, and to wash him and speak with him. He tries to imagine how the boy got there and, one night overhears the adults in the village and his dad’s boss talking and realizes that his father is responsible for the boy being in the hole. The boy is the son of a wealthy family from Pavia and Michele overhears a discussion about cutting his ears off if the ransom is not paid. He vows to visit the boy again. When the adults learn that he has found the boy, poor Michele is given a brand new bike and promises of a trip to the seashore if he will just stay away. His father tells him that, if he returns to the hole, the adults will kill the boy. So Michele stays away.
Until another day of adventure brings the small group of children back to the site of the hole and Michele realizes they’ve moved him. That night, he hears that they are planning to kill him as they argue over who will do the crime and the time. Michele makes a moral decision and flees the house to find and save the young boy. The novel ends in a surprise and without a clear resolution.
This book churns your guts and keeps them churning through its brief 200 pages. Why would the boy not report having found another child chained in a hole? Why would he be bought off with a bike? Why would he not free him right away? Why doesn’t he tell someone? And would I have enough guts to act, especially at nine years old, as Michele does in the end?
It’s a fast and interesting read, but be prepared to close the covers disturbed.