Like David Almond's 1998 Whitbread-winning Skellig
, this powerful, eerie, elegantly written novel celebrates the magic that is part of our existence--the magic that occurs when we dream at night, the magic that connects us to family long gone, the magic that connects humans to the land, and us all to each other. As Kit's grandfather puts it, "the tales and memories and dreams that keep the world alive."
It seems fated that 13-year-old Christopher Watson, nicknamed Kit, would move to Stoneygate, an old English coal-mining village where his ancestors lived, worked, and died. Evidence of the ancient coal pit is everywhere--depressions in the gardens, jagged cracks in the roadways, in his grandfather's old mining songs. A monument in the St. Thomas graveyard bears the name of child workers killed in the Stoneygate pit disaster of 1821, including Kit's own name--Christopher Watson, aged 13--the name of a distant uncle. At the top of this high, narrow pyramid-shaped monument is the name John Askew, the same name of Kit's classmate who takes the connection between this monument and life--and death--very seriously.
The drama unfolds as the haunted, hulking, dark-eyed John Askew draws Kit and other classmates into the game of Death, a spin-the-knife, pretend-to-die game that he hosts in a deep hole dug in the earth, with candles, bones, and carved pictures of the children of the old families of Stoneygate. Kit the writer and Askew the artist belong together, Askew keeps telling him. "Your stories is like my drawings, Kit. They take you back deep into the dark and show it lives within us still.... You see it, don't you? You're starting to see that you and me is just the same." Are they, though?
Kit's Wilderness conjures a world where the past is alive in the present and creeps into the future--a world where ancestral ghosts and even the slow-changing geology of the landscape are as tangible as lunch. Powerful images of darkness exploding into "lovely lovely light" filter throughout the story, as Almond boldly explores the dark side and unearths a joyful message of redemption. (Ages 11 and much, much older) --Karin Snelson
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From Publishers Weekly
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.)
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