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Grade 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
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*Starred Review* Gr. 6-9. In Almond's beautiful novel Skellig (1999), a boy finds a fragile angel-like creature in his garden shed, but in this book the magical realism goes much further. The author sets a Frankenstein monster story in a small, contemporary English town. Mischievous altar boy Davie explains how a strange new kid, Stephen, convinces him to steal the body and blood of Christ from church, which the boys use to create a huge clay monster that obeys their wishes. Should the boys send Clay to kill Mouldy, the vicious local bully? When Mouldy falls to his death in the local quarry, Davie wonders if Clay is responsible. Is the monster reading his thoughts? How much of Davie is in the monster? The scary monster-come-to-town story raises big issues about God, creativity, and evil, but Davie's first-person narrative is never preachy. Discussions about art ("our passion to create goes with our passion to destroy") and religion (Has God abandoned us because we created nuclear bombs and gas chambers?) are beautifully handled, as is the portrait of Davie's happy family. Rooted in the ordinariness of a community and in one boy's chance to play God, this story will grab readers with its gripping action and its important ideas. Hazel Rochman
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