This book was sent to me by the publisher, Bloomsbury, at no cost. It will be out in Australia in December 2016; RRP $24.99 (hardback). Recommended ages 9-12.
Uh, wow. This book is utterly beautiful and wonderful. Both the prose and the object itself.
The story: bullied girl one day gets rescued by the weird, despised kid. She goes back to his house where she hears haunting, enchanting music, so she goes back the next day. Things get weirder over the next couple of days – and worse, and better. There’s kind-of magic, and real friendship, and problems to overcome.
I smiled. I had tears. I audibly gasped.
This is one of those gentle, insistent, wonderful books that make me happy to be reading. It kinda reminded me of Patrick Rothfuss’ Slow Regard of Silent Things – there’s more plot here, but the sensibility somehow feels similar.
This is also one of those books where I think “by golly I hope I’m not one of those sorts of adults.” Harrold has captured Frank’s voice wonderfully, and an attitude towards adults – their jokes are embarrassing, they can’t or won’t help with bullies, they’re basically oblivious – that feels all too real.
Other things I love about Frank: she has regular cranky discussion with her stomach, which tells her to ignore interesting-if-maybe-dangerous things, points out that things are about to go badly, and occasionally ostentatiously ignores proceedings and reads a newspaper instead. Pure magic. Also, her name is Francesca Patel. One old lady makes some passing comment about “do they have tuna where you’re from?” but otherwise, that’s just her name and I have no idea what she or anyone in her family looks like.
Oh yes – she has a family. There was a slight undertone of Archer’s Goon here; not that the family gets involved, but that they’re present and loving. This is a really nice take on the ‘weird things are happening to the kid but the family has no idea’ trope, without the family seeming evil for their ignorance.
And the book itself? The version I have is a smallish hardback. The pictures, by Levi Pinfold, are gorgeous. Many of the pages have story-appropriate shadows about the edges, and the text largely stays away from them, which is really cute. The front cover gives you an idea of what the internal illustrations look like: as if they’re maybe done in pencil? I don’t know, I’m no artist, but they’re delicate and rely on shadow and light and they’re a wonderful complement to the text.
One slight warning: if you are distressed by descriptions of bullying then this may be just a bit too much for you. I have horrible memories of The Chocolate War and usually hate those sorts of books… and I found the treatment of Frank by the bullies quite nasty. But what makes it work here is that Frank, while definitely and understandably affected, isn’t completely ground down. She doesn’t pretend that everything is ok, and some days it affects her more than others, but she ends up coping. And my heart sang when, seeing one of the bullies having been attacked, she decides to help him: “This wasn’t about him, was it? It was about her and who she wanted to be. She wanted to be a better person. Better than him at least. And not because it was a competition, just because” (161). YES. Just because. I love it.
I have every intention of holding onto this book (… I don’t keep every book…) and putting it into the hands of any kid (and possibly adult) I can.