As a storyteller's fire captures its audience, David Almond's latest novel draws the reader through darkness into irresistible light. Heaven Eyes, the third novel for young people by this highly acclaimed author, offers what Almond fans anticipate: a wonderful mixture of mystery, fantasy, dreams, and reality.
The story begins at Whitegates, a three-storied place with a garden paved over in concrete and a metal fence around it. Erin and January constantly run away from the orphanage in search of adventure and freedomfreedom from their disappointed caretaker, psychiatrists, social workers, and from the Life Story books they create from scraps of memory, fact, and imagination.
January, the boy named for the wintry night his mother left her day-old baby on the doorstep of a hospital, rigs a runaway raft out of two doors and some paneling. Erin Law, one of the few children with a real name and real memories of the time before Whitegates, brings her treasure box and a few photos. As they sneak away, Mouse, whose father tattooed on his arm, "please look after me," insists on coming along.
The runaways don't get very far, but where they disembark might as well be another world. After escaping from the thick mud of the Black Middens, they encounter Heaven Eyes, a strange luminescent girl with webbed fingers and toes. She leads them to an abandoned printing warehouse, where she lives with a mysterious old man.
The kids discover that the most extraordinary things existed in our ordinary world and just waited for us to find them. Almond's vivid and original storytelling creates a very real sense of wonder.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Readers spellbound by the intriguing characters and surrealistic flavor of Almond's previous works will be eager to dive into the murky waters of this third novel, set in a riverside orphanage. Erin Law, one of the "damaged" orphan children residing at Whitegates, eloquently recounts her earliest happy memories of her mother and the way the woman's voice and touch have remained with her. One day, Erin sets out on a remarkable adventure-cum-rescue mission, with fellow orphan friends January and Mouse on a homemade raft. ("Some people will tell you that none of these things happened. They'll say they were just a dream that the three of us shared.") Their vessel gets stuck in the mire on the Black Middens, a muddy sinkhole of a place every bit as haunting and surreal as the hideout in Skellig or the abandoned mines of Kit's Wilderness. The children discover two strangers who live alongside the Middens in a dilapidated settlement: Heaven Eyes, a ghostlike girl with webbed hands (so named because "her lovely eyes... saw through all the trouble in the world to the heaven that lies beneath"), and "Grampa," her ancient caretaker. Here the children slowly unravel mysteries about the crumbling town, its muddy banks holding many treasures and the tragic history of Heaven Eyes. Possessing a rare understanding of human frailties, impulses, desires and fears, the author boldly explores the gray area between reality and imagination, and the need to construct one's own legends in order to survive. His tantalizing settings and poetic narrative have a lingering effect, much like a prophetic dream. Ages 9-12. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Three orphan children residing at Whitegate set out on an adventure-cum-rescue mission and discover a ghostlike girl with webbed hands. "The tantalizing settings and poetic narrative have a lingering effect, much like a prophetic dream," said PW in a starred review. Ages 10-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Erin, January, and Mouse all live together in a British orphanage. Seeking freedom, the three take off on a raft down the nearby river, and wind up stuck in the mud of the Black Middens. There they encounter a strange, pale girl with webbed hands and feet and the eccentric old man she calls Grampa, who looks after her. Grampa explains that the child is called Heaven Eyes "cos she does see through all the grief and trouble in the world to the heaven that does lie beneath," and hints at secrets in her past, but won't discuss them. This odd couple takes the three runaways back to the abandoned printing works where they live. There Heaven Eyes wins the heart of Erin, calling her "my long-lost sister"; little Mouse helps Grampa hunt for treasure in the mud, and finds a body; and January discovers where Heaven Eyes came from. When Grampa suddenly dies, the three explorers return with Heaven Eyes to the orphanage, understanding more about the meaning of love, family, and hidden treasures. Erin tells the story, and at the end she says, "The most astounding things can lie waiting as each day dawns, as each page turns." This statement is true of all Almond's novels: his previous books, the acclaimed YA novels Skellig and Kit's Wilderness, also incorporate elements of surrealism and fantasy as well as exploring the power of family bonds, whether by birth or by choice, as is the case here. His writing is lyrical and dreamlike and casts a spell over the reader, just as Heaven Eyes and her odd and endearing manner of expressing herself cast a spell over Erin. Almond's voice is unique and poetic, not for every reader, but many imaginative YAs will treasure his writing. Heaven Eyes is a lovely andhaunting book, with original characters that will linger in readers' minds. KLIATT Codes: J*Exceptional book, recommended for junior high school students. 2001, Random House/Delacorte, 240p, $15.95. Ages 13 to 15. Reviewer: Paula Rohrlick; March 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 2)
When English orphans Erin Law, January Carr, and Mouse Gullane run away from their group home, Whitegates, their makeshift raft goes aground on a mudbank, the Black Middens. In this terrifying ruin of abandoned wharves and warehouses, oozing mud threatens to suck them under until they are discovered by the Middens' only inhabitants: a magical elfin girl named Heaven Eyes, and half-crazed Grampa. Pulling Heaven Eyes from the mud long ago, Grampa named her for her ability to see heaven through the world's grief and trouble. As Heaven Eyes grows close to Erin, Grampa and Mouse also bond, spending hours unearthing "treasures" in the mud. When Mouse discovers the beautifully preserved body of a long-dead seaman, Grampa calls it a "saint"an object of beauty emerging from the mudand begins to trust them. As wrecking balls arrive, Grampa asks the three to take Heaven Eyes back to Whitegates, giving her a box containing clues explaining the mystery of her origins. He dies quietly, and in a surreal scene, the spirits of Grampa and the seaman rise, walk across the mudflats, and disappear into the black water. The structure of the novelfrom Whitegates to the Black Middens and back to Whitegatesacts as a metaphor for life's journey. The primary theme, that the ability to find beauty amid overwhelming ugliness and evil brings solace and healing, is evident in Heaven Eyes, who helps the others develop it. Almond's prose is lyrical, and the lilting dialect of Heaven Eyes and Grampa is appealing and expressive. His magical and mysterious world raises more questions than it answers. Younger readers will enjoy the engaging story in this multilayered work, whereas older readerswill appreciate the rich imagery. The characters' ages are not mentioned, but they act like younger teens. As in reality, the book's ending is not tidy. When the orphans return from their journey with Heaven Eyes, one senses that their real journeys are just beginning. This book has great deptha provocative reading experience and excellent choice for classroom discussion. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2001, Random House, 240p, . Ages 12 to 15. Reviewer: Florence H. Munat SOURCE: VOYA, April 2001 (Vol. 24, No.1)
They lived at Whitegates, these damaged children. Orphans they were, and they ran away on a regular basis, always returning because they were hungry and cold. But when January Carr tells Erin he has built a raft, Erin knows this escape will be different. It was supposed to be just the two of them but timid Mouse Gullane insists on going, too. But the raft becomes mired in the mud of the Black Middens, and they are met by a girl with webbed fingers and a peculiar way of talking. She is called Heaven Eyes by Grampa who rescued her, and they live in an abandoned printing works. Heaven Eyes can "see through all the grief and trouble in the world to the heaven that does lie beneath," says Grampa. His concern with protecting Heaven Eyes is extreme, which makes January very uneasy. When Mouse becomes Grampa's Little Helper and discovers a body in the mud, January immediately concludes that Grampa has murdered someone. Grampa says they have discovered a saint. The events that follow change these children and just might make a believer out of anyone reading this book. Almond mingles reality and fantasy in a most believable way. His setting is vivid and the characters leap from the pages, staying with the reader long after the story ends. There is an interesting parallel between the orphans who know little of their past and the abandoned warehouses whose history will soon be lost as they are torn down. Just as a brand new future awaits the Quay with modern shops and restaurants, so too these children will create a future for themselves. 2001, Delacorte, $15.95. Ages 11 to 14. Reviewer: Sharon Salluzzo
School Library Journal
Gr 6-9-Welcome to the surreal world of David Almond and his haunting novel (Delacorte, 2001) about three orphans who run away from Whitegates, a home for "damaged" children. Fleeing down the Ouseburn River on a homemade raft fashioned from old doors, Erin Law, January Carr, and Mouse Gulane land on the Black Middens, a mud bank not far from where they began their journey. There they find Heaven Eyes, a strange girl with webbed feet and hands, who speaks pidgin English and lives in a derelict building with her mysterious and somewhat menacing caretaker named Grandpa. He and Heaven Eyes show Erin and her friends how to dig in the black mud, for "there is secrets and there is treasures and there is saints waiting to be found." The three runaways are captivated by Heaven Eyes, whose childlike innocence is a novelty. In his third children's book, Almond has written a tale as dark and deep as the river flowing through it. The narration by actress Amanda Plummer is a double treat. Her pacing is carefully measured to perfection, and the story is delivered in a soothing brogue. Those comfortable with ambiguous settings, ethereal characters, powerful themes, and strong imagery will be delighted.-Celeste Steward, Contra Costa County Library, Clayton, CA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
"Almond's fans will willingly follow him on yet another journey into a surreal, murkey world that may be dream or reality." - Kirkus Reviews
Read an Excerpt
The Middle of the World
She started with The Universe. Then she wrote The Galaxy, The Solar System, The Earth, Europe, England, Felling, Our House, The Kitchen, The White Chair With A Hundred Holes Like Stars, then her name, Margaret, and she paused.
"What's in the middle of me?" she asked.
"Your heart," said Mary.
She wrote My Heart.
"In the middle of that?"
"Your soul," said Catherine.
She wrote My Soul.
Mam reached down and lifted the front of Margaret's T-shirt and prodded her navel.
"That's where your middle is," she said. "That's where you were part of me."
Margaret drew a row of stick figures, then drew concentric rings growing out from each of them.
"Where's the real middle of the world?" she said.
"They used to think the Mediterranean," said Catherine. "Medi means middle. Terra means world. The sea at the middle of the world."
Margaret drew a blue sea with a green earth around it.
"There was another sea at the edges," said Catherine. "It was filled with monsters and it went right to the end of the world. If you got that far, you just fell off."
Margaret drew this sea. She put fangs and fins for monsters.
"There's no end, really, is there?" she said.
"No," said Catherine.
"And there's no middle, is there?"
Mam prodded Margaret's navel again.
"That's the middle of the world," she said.
Later that day we went to the grave. Colin rushed home from Reyrolle's on his Vespa for lunch. He bolted his food and rattled away again. We heard the scooter taking him on to Felling Bank and down toward the square.
When it faded, Mary said,
"Should we go to the grave today?"
We hadn't been for months. We thought of the dead being in Heaven rather than being in the earth.
"Good idea," said Mam. "I'll make some bara brith for when you get home."
We were on the rocky path at the foot of the street when Dandy ran after us. He was a little black poodle that was never clipped and had horrible breath.
"Go home!" said Mary. "Dandy, go home!"
He yapped and growled and whined.
"Dandy, go home!"
No good. We just had to let him trot along beside us.
Margaret fiddled with her navel as she walked.
"When I started," she said, "what was I like?"
"What do you think you were like?" said Mary. "Like a gorilla? You were very very very little. You were that little, you couldn't even be seen. You were that little, nobody even knew you were blinkin there!"
"Daft dog," said Catherine, as Dandy ran madly through a clump of foxgloves and jumped at bees.
Soon we saw Auntie Jan and Auntie Mona ahead of us. They wore head scarves and carried shopping bags on their arms.
"Bet you can't tell which is which," said Mary.
"Even when they're talking to me I can't tell which is which," said Margaret.
The two aunts hurried into Ell Dene Crescent.
"Did they look the same when nobody knew they were there?" said Margaret.
"Of course they did!" said Mary. "Everybody looks the same when they can't be blinkin seen!"
The aunts waved and grinned and we all waved and Dandy yapped and then they hurried on again down into Ell Dene Crescent.
Mary picked daisies from the verges as we walked.
She said, "Dad once said that daisies were the best of all flowers. I think I remember that."
"You do," said Catherine. "You do remember. He called them day's eyes. Awake in the day and closed asleep at night."
Further on, Daft Peter lay in his greatcoat under a tree on The Drive.
"Not him!" said Catherine. "We'll never get away from him!"
We sat on a bench on Watermill Lane.
"How far is it?" said Margaret.
"You know how far," said Mary.
"Nowhere's far in Felling," said Catherine.
We watched Daft Peter.
"Move," said Catherine. "Go on. Move."
"Is Felling very small?" said Margaret.
Mary stamped her feet.
"Yes," said Catherine.
"Is it the smallest place in the world?"
"Is this Daft Question Day?" said Mary.
"Yes!" said Margaret.
"It's very small," said Catherine. "But there's smaller places."
"Places in the desert," said Mary. "Rings of huts in the jungle. Villages in the Himalayas."
"Yes," said Catherine. "And places like Hebburn or Seaton Sluice."
"Not Seaton Sluice," said Mary. "It's got that big beach. It's got to be bigger than Felling. And Hebburn's got that big new shopping center."
"Windy Nook, then," she said.
"That's not fair," said Mary. "Windy Nook's a part of somewhere else."
"Where, then? And make it somewhere we know."
"Bill Quay," said Mary.
No one said anything, even though we all knew Bill Quay was part of somewhere else as well.
"Thank goodness," said Catherine. "Bill Quay."
Daft Peter didn't move. In the end, we walked on. Dandy snarled as we drew nearer to the man.
"Dandy!" said Catherine.
Daft Peter smiled and rubbed his eyes.
"Here's me thought I was dreamin," he said. "And all the time I'm just wakin up."
He leaned against the tree.
"What would ye say if I knew how to turn swimmin fish into flyin fowl?" he said.
"Take no notice," whispered Catherine.
"Not much at all, I see," said Peter. "But what if I said I could take you girls and show you how to fly aroond this tree."
"I'd say you couldn't!" said Mary.
"Aha!" said Peter. "Just let me look inside this bag, then."
He dug into a brown bag. He took out a sandwich, something bright red and black hanging out of two dried-out slices of bread. He held it out to Mary as we approached.
"Take a bite of that," he said. "Go on, take a bite of that and see."
Dandy jumped up at him, barking and snarling. Daft Peter flailed and kicked and the sandwich flew into the road.
"Daft dog!" he shouted. "Look what ye've done to me dinna!"
We hurried past.
"What would ye say if I turned a daft dog into a nice meat pie?" yelled Peter.
"I'd say it would be very hairy and it would stink!" said Mary.
From the Hardcover edition.