by David Almond
Book list From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission. 9780385326650 Gr. 6^-9. Almond, whose Skellig is the Booklist 1999 Top of the List winner for youth fiction, creates a heartbreakingly real world fused with magic realism in this story, set in an English coal-mining town. Thirteen-year-old Kit Watson and his family have returned to Stonygate to care for Kit's recently widowed grandfather. Almost immediately, Kit is enticed by John Askew, also of an old mining family, into a game called Death. Like the other members of Askew's gang, Kit is left alone in an abandoned mine until he sees ghosts of ancestors who died there as boys. Kit's friend Allie tells him that the other kids pretend to see these apparitions, but Kit really does see--and Askew knows it. The boys share a bond. Both are artistic: Kit is a writer; Askew is an artist. And both are sensitive enough to perceive what may not be there. But Kit comes from a strong, loving family, and Askew is the child of an ineffectual mother and a father who's a vicious drunk. Slowly, as Kit hears stories from his grandfather and writes his own, he realizes he has a mission--to save John Askew, body and soul. Almond has set an enormous task for himself. He juggles several plot elements--grandfather's fading mental capacities, Allie's acting aspirations, one of Kit's stories--along with the boys' struggle for redemption. But he succeeds beautifully, knitting dark and light together and suffusing the multilayered plot with an otherworldly glow. This is a long book, and a complex one, but Almond's language is a pleasure to read; and, as with Skellig, the story's ruminations about death and the healing power of love will strike children in unsuspected ways. --Ilene Cooper
Publishers Weekly (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved 9780385326650 Revisiting many of the themes from Skellig, Almond offers another tantalizing blend of human drama, surrealism and allegory. He opens the novel with a triumphant scene, in which Kit Watson, the 13-year-old narrator, and his classmates, John Askew and Allie Keenan reemerge from "ancient darkness into a shining valley," as if to reassure readers throughout the course of the cryptic tale that the game of "Death," so central to the book, is indeed just a game. Nevertheless, he takes readers on a thrilling and spine-tingling ride. When Kit moves with his mother and father to the mining town of Stoneygate to keep company with his newly widowed grandfather, he feels drawn to John Askew who, like Kit, comes from a long line of coal miners. Askew presses Kit to take part in a game of "Death," for which the participants spin a knife to determine whose turn it is to "die." The chosen one then remains alone in the darkness of Askew's den, to join spirits with boys killed in a coal mine accident in 1821. Some regular players consider the game to be make-believe, but Kit senses something far more profound and dangerous, and the connection he forges with the ancient past also circuitously seals a deeper bond with Askew. Allie acts as a bridge between the two worlds, much as Mina was for Michael in Skellig. The ability that Askew, Kit and his grandpa possess to pass between two seductive worlds, here and beyond, in many ways expands on the landscape Almond created in Skellig. The intricacy and complexity of the book's darker themes make it a more challenging read than his previous novel for children, but the structure is as awe-inspiring as the ancient mining tunnels that run beneath Stoneygate. Ages 12-up. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
School Library Journal (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. 9780385326650 Gr 6-9-The haunting otherworldliness that distinguished Skellig (Delacorte, 1999) also permeates this book. After the death of his grandmother, 13-year-old Kit Watson moves with his family to Stoneygate, an old coal-mining town, to take care of his elderly grandfather. He forms a tentative friendship with John Askew, who is ridiculed because of his father's public drunkenness and inability to care for his family. In the wilderness area near their town, John organizes an after-school game called "Death," in which Kit and other friends lie alone in an abandoned mine waiting for visions of children who died there long ago. After school officials discover the game and expel John, he disappears. Kit, a budding writer, crafts a story about a prehistoric boy who becomes separated from his family. The story parallels the emotional incidents in John Askew's life and incorporates elements of stories Kit's grandfather has told him about the mines. John's mother pleads with the boy to bring her son home at the same time as the mother in the story Kit is writing appears to him, pleading with him to return her missing children. John resurfaces and, with Kit's help, rejoins his family. Grandpa dies, but Kit is committed to keeping his memory and his stories alive. Almond artfully brings these complicated, interwoven plots to a satisfying conclusion as he explores the power of friendship and family, the importance of memory, and the role of magic in our lives. This is a highly satisfying literary experience, showing readers that some of life's events are beyond explanation.-Ellen Fader, Multnomah County Library, Portland, OR (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.