Thursday, March 08, 2007


by David Almond

Another young adult book that I checked out ages ago and only recently got around to reading. Although the author is popular — at least with librarians and award-givers — I had no problem renewing the book repeatedly, so the kids weren't exactly champing at the bit.

It's a bit of an odd story. It borrows heavily from Jewish folklore (the legend of the golem) without ever mentioning Judaism, and it's set in what seems like the '50s or '60s against a background of Catholic versus Protestant animosity without being in Northern Ireland (rather, it's in northwestern England). Even setting all that strangeness aside, I'm not sure for whom the author is writing, cuz I don't think too many teens are going to connect with this story. It manages to seem old-fashioned without actually dating itself very clearly. (Unlike Black Swan Green, a book by another English author that is set in the indirectly specified recent past but manages to seem timeless. Also unlike Almond's Printz award runner-up Skellig, which was weird and supernatural in a positive way.) It also does that thing where it jumps right in to the story and the reader is supposed to figure out the setting and get oriented by picking up little clues and cues; authors seem to think this terribly clever, but the technique is rarely deployed effectively, in my experience. No offense meant to teens, but if I found it hard to assimilate the dialect and social context, it won't be easy or fun for young adults.

Anyway, it isn't horrible (mercifully short, more like it), but I wouldn't recommend it. The ending is kinda slapdash, and the themes are much more effectively explored in Skellig.

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