This visually lovely biography looks at each Beatle individually. The first–and longest–chapter shows John Lennon’s troubled growing-up years. In other chapters we see Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr before they joined the band. Susanna Reich focuses on the boys’ inner lives–what drew them to music and why they were looking for a group to make music with.
Reich has woven wonderful quotations throughout the book. For example, Lennon’s aunt, whom he lived with, told him, “The guitar’s all right for a hobby, John, but you’ll never make a living at it.” And Richard Starkey, before he became Ringo Starr, told his family, “Drums are my life.”
Biographers always face the difficult question of how to frame the story they’re telling. This is a particularly difficult problem for a group like the Beatles with such a dramatic and famous trajectory. Reich chooses to end this biography with the formation of the Beatles, as we know it, and their triumphant year of touring in the United Kingdom. It’s a great craft choice, since the stories she has told are all about why and how these musicians looked for each other. Ending here, with a successful musical band, gives a satisfying close to the narrative arc.
In her author’s note, Reich tells about how she got interested in the subject and talks about the difficulty she faced in compressing so much material into a picture book format.
Adam Gustavson’s illustrations add a wonderful layer to the story. He’s a great portraitist. The Macmillan website is highlighting 8 of his paintings from the book. Younger readers will love the pictures, but the text is definitely written to older kids.
Fab Four Friends: The Boys Who Became the BEATLES by Susanna Reich, illustrated by Adam Gustavson. (Henry Holt: 2015)