Perhaps the most unsettling of Almond's supernatural novels (Skellig; Kit's Wilderness) this eerie tale shows the disastrous effects of two boys attempting to play God. At his priest's request, altar boy David befriends a new member of the parish, Stephen, who has come to live with his "crazy" Aunt Mary after his father dies suddenly and his mother becomes mentally ill. It becomes immediately apparent to David, who narrates, that Stephen, who has left the school where he was studying to be a priest, is different from other boys. Stephen claims to have communicated with an angel, yet questions the existence of God. He also appears to be blessed with a remarkable talent for molding figures out of clay. Most amazing of all, he possesses the ability to bring his creations to life. David raises provocative issues as he grapples with the meaning of these events ("Do you think... that an artist is a kind of God?" he asks his art teacher). Stephen believes that with David's help, he can create a life-size being that will "stand up and walk beside us and protect us." Only after the two succeed in constructing a "monster" out of clay does David discover that the act of creation can lead to destruction-and that Stephen is not what he appears to be. Almond's story contains chilling images of temptation, mind control and corruption. Readers will remain on the edge of their seats to find out if the good in David can overcome unleashed evil. Ages 12-up. (July) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
KLIATT - Paula Rohrlick
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, July 2006: Altar boys Davie and Geordie are well behaved only when adults are looking; their biggest problem is Mouldy, a threatening bully, or so they think. Then Stephen Rose comes to their small village in northern England, and Davie's world abruptly changes. Stephen is a strange and disturbed boy who creates beautiful sculptures out of clay. He convinces Davie that he can bring them to life, and that Davie can, too. The two work in an abandoned garden to form a golem, a man made of clayand then Mouldy meets his death. Is it really an accident, or is the golemor Stephenresponsible? Is Stephen not just creepy, but truly malevolent? And has Davie also become Stephen's plaything, his creation? This spooky tale from the author of Skellig, Kit's Wilderness, and other poetic and unusual books for YAs takes on some big ideas here, including the nature of evil and of creativity. It's a powerful and provocative tale, with religious overtones, and it will haunt readers long after they finish it. Reviewer: Paula Rohrlick
Altar boys Davie and Geordie are well behaved only when adults are looking; their biggest problem is Mouldy, a threatening bully, or so they think. Then Stephen Rose comes to their small village in northern England, and Davie's world abruptly changes. Stephen is a strange and disturbed boy who creates beautiful sculptures out of clay. He convinces Davie that he can bring them to life, and that Davie can, too. The two work in an abandoned garden to form a golem, a man made of clayand then Mouldy meets his death. Is it really an accident, or is the golemor Stephenresponsible? Is Stephen not just creepy, but truly malevolent? And has Davie also become Stephen's plaything, his creation? This spooky tale from the author of Skellig, Kit's Wilderness, and other poetic and unusual books for YAs takes on some big ideas here, including the nature of evil and of creativity. It's a powerful and provocative tale, with religious overtones, and it will haunt readers long after they finish it. KLIATT Codes: JS*Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2006, Random House, Delacorte, 224p., and Ages 12 to 18.
This is Davie's story of the time when Stephen Rose came to town. Davie and Geordie, fourteen-year-old altar boys and best mates, are busy getting into minor scrapes, smoking the occasional stolen cigarette, and trying to avoid Mouldy, the town bully. When Stephen arrives everything changes. His father has died and his mother gone insane, so he has been sent to live with his aunt, Crazy Mary. From the start, there is something off about Stephen. But Davie makes friends with him, partly because the town priest and Mary both hope he will be a good influence. Stephen Rose believes that he has the power to create life, and eventually he persuades Davie to believe it too. Stephen creates a "monster" out of clay, and one night, together, they bring clay to life. Davie immediately runs home in terror, and the next morning he wakes to the news that Mouldy died during the night. He is wracked with guilt, fearing that Clay was involved. This dark, creepy story examines many heavy questions in a context that lends them some appeal to middle readers. Does evil exist? If one believes in God, must one believe in evil too? Does a creator look after his creation or leave it on its own? Is God looking after humankind or has he abandoned us because of our wickedness? Although this title might not have widespread appeal, fans of Almond's work will appreciate the excellent writing and the perfect portrayal of young teenage boys and their shifting alliances and worries. VOYA CODES: 4Q 3P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2005, Delacorte, 224p., and PLB Ages 11 to 15.
Children's Literature - Nicole Peterson
This is not a typical book for young adults. The story takes place in the UK, therefore the writing style and phrases oft used are quite different from US counterparts. On top of that, the main character in this book swears fights, steals, and almost murders. This mature novel deals with issues of right and wrong, and the existence of God. Davie and Geordie are altar boys at their Catholic church. They have been asked to befriend a new boy who came into town and has the ability to make inanimate objects come to life after he creates them from clay or wood. He goes too far by creating a clay man who turns monstrous and almost murders the town bully. Davie struggles with knowing what is right and what is wrong. This disturbing novel fails to bring a conclusion to the readers about the questions it poses in the book.
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-As in Kit's Wilderness (2000) and The Fire-Eaters (2004, both Delacorte), Almond revisits the English north country of his youth to spin this metaphysical tale of boys in conflict. Davie and his friend Geordie are altar boys, but are beginning to doubt the value of their long-held religious beliefs. They live in fear of the bullying Mouldy, a hulking, drunken lout from a neighboring village whom they're sure is out to kill them. Enter Stephen, a slightly older boy whose father is dead, whose mother is mad, and who was reputedly kicked out of priestly training for some kind of trouble related to devil worship and performing a Black Mass. A talented sculptor, he proceeds to scare Davie silly with his talk of creating life, of creating, in fact, a monster that will wreak revenge on Mouldy. Davie sees Stephen's clay figures move. Is it hypnotism, faith, or madness? Whatever, their monster is eventually made real. Mouldy may have been killed by it in a fall from a cliff, and Davie wrestles with his guilt until he ultimately destroys it. This is a Catholic ghost story, a sort of "Secret Life of Boys" with which many readers, should they persevere through the heavily nuanced language, will identify. While the look of the book is deceptively simple, the weighty content of the plot and its accompanying themes are chilling, indeed.-Joel Shoemaker, Southeast Junior High School, Iowa City, IA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
What if your wish for revenge against a bully could come true? Stephen Rose, an odd boy with a strange past, comes to town and befriends Davie, and in his skill with clay comes a salvation of sorts against Mouldy and his gang. With a kinship to the Golem of Jewish legend, Frankenstein and Dracula, comes a creature created out of clay, representing the human paradox in its capacity for good or evil. The tale represents our twin passions for creation and destruction and the world we have of angels, devils and monsters, of God, and of humans acting like gods. Fans of Almond's work will enjoy contemplating such ideas and finding parallels with his other novels. The haunting tone, philosophical depth and beautifully crafted prose are what readers have come to expect of a work by this master. A memorable tale that raises provocative questions. (Fiction. 12+)
From the Publisher
“[A] decidedly creepy musing on the nexus between faith and reality, good and evil, from a master.”–The Horn Book Magazine, Starred
“Readers will remain on the edge of their seats to find out if the good in David can overcome unleashed evil.”–Publishers Weekly, Starred
Read an Excerpt
He arrived in Felling on a bright and icy February morning. Not so long ago, but it was a different age. I was with Geordie Craggs, like I always was back then. We were swaggering along like always, laughing and joking like always. We passed a Players back and forward between us and blew long strings of smoke into the air. We'd just been on the altar. We were heading for Braddock's garden. We were on Watermill Lane when a red taxi rattled past us. Black fumes belched from it. The sign at the top said it was from down at the coast.
"What's that doing up here?" said Geordie.
A bit of communion wafer was still stuck to my teeth. I poked it free with my tongue and swallowed it, then drew on the cigarette again.
"God knows," I said.
The taxi stopped fifty yards away, outside Crazy Mary's house. Crazy came lolloping out with her red hair flying. She had a big flappy flowery dress and tartan slippers on. The kid got out of the taxi. He pulled a battered brown suitcase after him. Crazy paid the driver; then the two of them headed for her front door. She looked back at us. She tried to put her arm around the kid but he twisted away and went inside. Crazy followed him and the door slammed shut.
The taxi driver leaned out of his window as he went past.
"What you two nebbing at?" he said.
"Nowt much," I said.
"Why don't you nick off back to Whitley Bay?" said Geordie.
"Aye," I said. "Nick off, Fishface."
And we laughed and belted on towards the garden yelling, "Fishface! Fishface! Fishface!"
We went through the ancient iron gate, ducked through the thorns, splashed through the edge of the clay pond, went into the quarry, went into the cave. There was writing on the wall again. We held matches up to it. All it said was 'We're watching you. Your doomd,' then a big black X. Somebody had tried to draw a skull as well but it looked like they'd given up because they were too useless.
I wiped dirt over it all.
Geordie sharpened his knife on a stone.
He pointed it at me.
"Soon there'll be a proper battle," he said.
"Aye," I said.
"It'll be just them and us," he said.
I shivered. I tried to laugh.
"The Battle of Braddock's Garden," I said.
I looked out at the sheer craggy quarry walls, the thick weeds, the deep clay pond, the ruins of Braddock's house above. The sparrow hawk flew out from its stony nest and flapped up into the open sky.
"Who was that at Crazy's?" I said.
"God knows," he said. "Wouldn't like to be him, though, holed up with that loony."
He took a syrup of figs bottle out of his pocket and lobbed it over. It was half full of the wine that he'd stolen after Mass that morning. I screwed the top off and swigged and smacked my lips. The wine was sticky and sweet and you could soon feel the little bit of dreaminess it brought.
"Pinching altar wine's a sin," I said.
We laughed and snapped some sticks, getting a fire ready.
I pointed to the ground.
"You'll burn in Hell, George Craggs," I said.
"Naa," said Geordie. "Not for that. You go to Hell for proper sins. Like nicking a million quid."
"Or killing somebody," I said.
"Aye." He stabbed the knife into the ground. "Murder!" He swigged the wine and swiped his hand across his lips. "I dreamed I killed Mouldy the other night."
"Was there loads of blood?"
"Gallons. Blood and guts everywhere."
"I did it here. I stabbed him in the heart, then I chopped his head off and I hoyed it in the pond."
"Prob'ly that'd not be a sin at all," I said. "Prob'ly you'd go straight to Heaven for getting rid of a thing like Mouldy."
"Course you would," said Geordie. "The whole world'd be better off without things like Mouldy."
We were quiet while we thought of Mouldy. We listened to the noises in the quarry.
"You seen how big he's getting?" I said.
"Bliddy Hell," I whispered.
"Aye. Bliddy Hell. He's turning to a monster."
There was no mystery. It turned out the kid was called Stephen Rose. He was from Whitley Bay. He was just a bit older than us. The story was he'd gone away to Bennett College to train to be a priest. He went when he was eleven, which wasn't strange back then in the 1960s. We knew loads of lads that did it. Like lots of them, though, Stephen couldn't stand it and he came back out again two or three years later. He'd just been home a month when his dad dropped dead with a stroke. Then his mother went mad and was taken away in the middle of a stormy night to Prudhoe. Stephen was all alone. The Poor Clares were going to take him in; then somehow they found out there was a distant aunt, Crazy Mary, up here in Felling, and so he came to her. The plan was that his mother'd be out soon, they'd set up home down at the coast again, everything would settle down again. But when I heard my parents on about it, it seemed there wouldn't be much chance of that. They'd heard she was truly barmy. She'd gone way way round the bend.
"Worse than Crazy Mary?" I said.
Mam glared at me.
"Don't call the poor woman that," she said. "She's just a devout and troubled soul."
"Sorry," I said.
"You don't know how lucky you are," she said. "There but for the grace of God . . ."
"What?" I groaned. "You worried about my sanity, Mother?"
I twisted my mouth and stuck my tongue out and drooled.
"Stop it!" she snapped. "Don't tempt fate."
She crossed herself.
"Maybe we should call her Holy Mary," she said. "Have you seen anybody else so devout, anybody else that prays so hard, anybody else so filled with yearning?"
I shook my head.
"Well, then," she said. "Did you know there's stories that there's saints in Mary's past?"
"Way back in her family. Back in Ireland, where the Doonans came from long ago."
"In the olden days," he said, "when saints walked in every village and an angel sat in every tree."
From the Hardcover edition.