Ruth White

Belle Prater’s Boy

  • This summary of Belle Prater’s Boy includes a complete plot overview – spoilers included!
  • We’re considering expanding this synopsis into a full-length study guide to deepen your comprehension of the book and why it's important.
  • Want to see an expanded study guide sooner? Click the Upvote button below.

Belle Prater’s Boy Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Belle Prater’s Boy by Ruth White.

Set in West Virginia in the 1950s, Ruth White’s 1996 young adult novel, Belle Prater’s Boy, tells the story of twelve-year-old Gypsy Leemaster and her aunt, Belle Prater, who mysteriously disappears one morning. When Gypsy’s cousin Woodrow comes to town, she befriends him in the hopes of finding out more about his mother’s disappearance.

Woodrow is only twelve years old when his mother disappears from their shack in the mountains. His father turns to drink to cope with the sudden loss, and Woodrow is sent to live with his mother’s parents. His cousin Gypsy lives next door with her mother, Love and her stepfather, Porter Dotson. The cousins have always lived separate lives. Gypsy’s family is wealthy and privileged, whereas Woodrow has grown up in poverty and of a lower class.

After finally crossing paths, Gypsy and Woodrow develop a close relationship. Both children are quick-witted and articulate for their age. They are also both self-conscious of their looks; Gypsy is beautiful but believes her good looks to be a burden, making most people look past the true person inside. Woodrow, on the other hand, is cross-eyed and finds that people often focus on this physical trait rather than his personality. Gypsy is appalled by the way Woodrow is often treated by the townspeople, with their cruel jokes and sneers, taunting him about his mother’s disappearance.

Gypsy asks Woodrow if he has any idea what has happened to his mother. He shares with her a poem that his mother read repeatedly in the days preceding her disappearance. The poem describes an open doorsill “where two worlds touch,” and admonishes, “you must ask for what you really want.” Based on this evidence, Woodrow tells Gypsy that he believes his mother is trapped between two worlds. Gypsy wants to believe what her cousin is telling her, but remains skeptical, unsure how this could actually be true.

Gypsy can relate to the pain of losing a parent. Her father was killed when she was only five years old. Although her stepfather tries his best to assume a fatherly role in Gypsy’s life, she finds that she is unable to accept him, often finding herself ignoring him and conjuring hateful thoughts in her mind.

Over the course of the summer, Gypsy and Woodrow become fast friends, and Gypsy continues to push her cousin to reveal more information about his mother’s disappearance. Woodrow befriends a local homeless man, Blind Benny, who turns out to have known and traveled with Gypsy’s father. Born without eyes, Blind Benny is not attractive, but both Woodrow and Gypsy learn to see beyond his features to find a loving, caring human being.

The children follow Benny as he scavenges for items discarded around town. Benny tells them how he was born blind and orphaned at a very young age. He was forced to support himself by working as a sin eater, taking the transgressions of the deceased upon himself. Benny had lived a lonely existence as a pariah until Amos Leemaster had befriended him, freed him from his odious station, and brought him to Coal Station, Virginia to start his life anew.

Gypsy remembers that in Sunday school her teacher told them that Jesus might come to them in disguise, potentially dressed in rags, old, or crippled. The lesson was to treat everyone kindly, as you never know who he or she might be. This lesson has stuck with Gypsy. Woodrow decides to write an essay on Benny, claiming that he is the only person he has ever met who sees clearly as he does not get caught up on outward appearances.

At school one day, Gypsy is telling a new teacher of her father’s accidental death, when someone blurts out that Gypsy’s father committed suicide. Gypsy is forced to face her true past. As she remembers her father, she recalls being the person to find his lifeless, bloody body after he shot himself in the head. He had been disfigured following his attempt to save a baby from a burning house, and he could not live with his looks.

Aggrieved by the sudden flood of memories, Gypsy cuts off all her hair and grieves in anger. She tries to push Woodrow away but he refuses to leave her, saying he will always be nearby to take care of her. Woodrow finally drops the facade and admits to Gypsy that although he has concocted elaborate fantasies to keep himself from having to acknowledge the truth, he knows his mother simply walked away from her life to begin a new one somewhere else.

Over time, she is able to forgive her father, as well as to accept her stepfather. Woodrow follows suit, and together, the two cousins face their pasts, accept them, and move into the future as young adults.