David Almond's Skellig
Book review by Sarah Denslow
An angel? A bird?
David Almond’s Skellig is not your average children’s book. Although in some ways the book lays out a familiar story – a young boy facing a difficult period in his life makes friends with the odd girl next door who makes him question some of his previous assumptions – Almond’s work is anything but commonplace.
Almond creates an incredibly rich and beautiful narrative in Skellig. In some ways, I’d like to simply state that it’s an amazing book that I can’t explain but highly recommend. Of course, it always drives me nuts when people say that to me about books (and it’s not really the purpose of a book review), so keeping that in mind, I’ll do my best to describe this complex work.
Ten-year-old Michael and his parents are under a lot of stress: his sister has been born prematurely and might not live. That’s enough for anyone, but in addition the family has just moved into a new house that needs a lot of work, including the garage, which could fall down at any minute.
Amid this landscape of grief and worry, Michael sneaks into the garage. It’s filled with all kinds of junk, but as he pokes around among the cobwebs and bugs, he finds a very old, very weak, and very cranky man.
At least that’s what it appears at first. Soon Michael realizes that Skellig, this creature in the garage, has wings.
What is Skellig? An angel? A bird? A creature part way between human and bird? Something else entirely? We don’t know, and Almond is careful to make sure there’s no simple answer.
Over the course of the novel, Michael, with the help of his unique friend Mina, attempts to help Skellig and to work through his worries about his sister, all while exploring the many new ideas Mina and Skellig bring into his life.
One of the most amazing aspects of Skellig is how many complex questions Almond manages to raise while still keeping the book on a level that children can both understand and relate to. (Among other things, Mina and Michael discuss evolution and William Blake’s poetry.) I enjoyed this book tremendously reading it two weeks ago and also know I would have loved it as a child.
Skellig is an extraordinarily powerful and moving book, emphasizing the power of hope and love. It ends happily, but I still very nearly cried when I finished it – and probably would have too if I hadn’t been in the middle of Union Station at the time – and I rarely cry at the end of books.
As I mentioned earlier, my attempts to describe Skellig are in many ways inadequate. The best I can do is to say that it’s an incredible book.
Webmaster's note: Skellig won the 1998 Carnegie medal. More children's book award-winners.
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