May 11, 2009

The Savage by David Almond and Dave McKean

The Savage is the story of Blue Baker, a young boy whose father unexpectedly dies of a heart attack. Mrs Molloy, the school counsellor, is constantly telling Blue to write down his thought and feelings, so that he may better deal with his grief. But Blue finds that this doesn’t help. What does help is writing the story he’s started to write – the story of The Savage, a wild boy living in the woods who has adventures and shows bullies like Hopper that they can't go around abusing people. As Blue continues to write The Savage's adventures, he begins to realize that the line between fiction and reality is starting to blur.

It’s official: I love David Almond. He writes such lovely books. Judging by this, Skellig, and the first chapter of Click, he seems to write about how children deal with grief and loss quite a lot. And he has a way of suggesting deep feelings with only so many words, of writing incredibly tender scenes that never cross the line to sentimental. Take this, for example:
Mam brought Jess into my room. We sat there on my bed and the moon shone in. We cuddled her and tried to soothe her, but she was sobbing hard.
“Daddy,” she gulped. “Want Daddy.”
“Oh, love,” said Mam. “Oh, my little love.”
Then Mam forced her face into a smile and said, “Hey, you’ll never guess what. Our Blue’s writing a story for us, Jess. Aren’t you, Blue? Go on. Show her the funny pictures.”
So I showed Jess the pictures of the savage and I made a funny savage grunt and Jess giggled through her tears. Then Mam told Jess about the smelly pigs, so I read that bit again and I trotted round the room like I was on a pig’s back and I waved my hand like I had an axe in it. And it worked. She giggled and her tears dried. We all sat close together again and Jess slowly went to sleep.
Of course, it works better in context. But I just love how delicate he is, how much he suggests.

Let me tell you about The Savage’s structure:I’m not sure if I’d call this a comic, a long picture book, or an illustrated novella. The sections about Blue’s life are told in text only, and the bits about the savage are richly illustrated by Dave McKean. Sadly, I only found one page online. I wish I could share more, but I'm sure that if you like McKean’s work in general you'll definitely like the art in this book.

Towards the end of The Savage, the story crosses the line between realistic fiction and fantasy. I think I liked Almond’s use of magical and mysterious elements in this book even better than in Skellig.

The Savage is about loss and mourning and anger and healing, and also about stories: why we tell them, how they impact our lives, why they matter.

Other Opinions:
Puss Reboots
YA Books and More
Highland LC Blog
Library Buzz
News From Nowhere
Bitten by Books
Jenny's Books
Bart's Bookshelf
Fluttering Butterflies

(Let me know if I missed yours.)

Thanks to Amy, I found out that May 11-17 is Children's Books Week. Amy is challenging everyone to read a children's book to celebrate, or to revisit an old favourite, which I think is an excellent idea. Visit the links for more details.


  1. I've not yet read anything by David Almond, though Skellig's on my list. I know I love Dave McKean's illustrations from Coraline.

    And thanks for letting me know about Children's Book Week. I'll have to indulge my younger tastes. :)

  2. That book looks and sounds amazing. Great review.

  3. What a great review! I loved the pictures from it and now I'll have to check this author out :)

  4. He's pretty awesome isn't he? I discovered him a few years back and have this one in my library. Just haven't gotten to it yet. Great review Dear!

  5. This book cover is really scary.

    I've never heard of David Almond but I have heard of Skellig. (this shows how much attention I was paying to the author).

    I am adding this book to my wishlist.

  6. Amanda: Do indulge! I can't wait to see what you're reading.

    bermudaonion, thanks!

    Sam: He's well worth checking out :)

    Staci: He really is! I've also heard great things about Clay and The Fire Eaters, so I think I'll check those out next.

    Violet: Do you think so? The savage in the story actually isn't scary, but I won't ruin it by telling you everything :P As for forgetting the name of the author, I do that too.

  7. Sheesh...I've never heard of this one either, but it sounds incredible.

  8. Definitely someone I want to check out. Most girls in community have experienced one trauma or another. Thanks for the review.

  9. You just can't leave my wishlist alone, can you? ;)

    Yet another one to request from the library...

    Seriously, great review, sounds a lovely book, I'm looking forward to reading it already, although I think getting it from the library might be an issue come returns time...

  10. I haven't read Skellig yet or watched it - will have to get around to it soon. The cover of The Savage is a little scary, but the story sounds good.

  11. Um, David Almond and Dave McKean together? You're blowing my mind... I haven't read anything that Dave McKean illustrated for quite some time, so I'll be getting this from the library soon!

  12. not my type of read, but it does sound interesting!
    thanks for the heads up on childrens book week :O)

  13. So is this review my birthday present?! I'm in love with it already and I had never even heard of it before this!! I must check out some David Almond...and I have a sneaking suspicion I'll start with this book ;) Seriously, an author that writes about teenage grief AND works with Dave McKean? I'm all over that, lol.

  14. What an amazing cover. Wow. I mean, really. Wow.

  15. I've to admit that cover looks a little scary to me, LOL. I'm glad you enjoyed this book, Nymeth. :)

  16. That covers looks great! My nephew would love it. Like your review.

  17. Debi: It probably helps that it's a recent book! And yes, I really think you'd love it :)

    Susan: I love Almond's willingness to admit that children do go through terrible things. I love that he deals with pain without romanticizing anything, but still manages to make his books hopeful.

    Bart: lol :P This is one you'll want to keep, yes. The art is just amazing.

    Scrap Girl: I'm actually surprised so many of you find the cover scary! But then again, I'm someone who has printed some of Dave Mckean's Coraline illustrations and put them up on the wall :P

    Jenny: I know! And Dave McKean mentioned on twitter the other day that they're working on another project together.

    Naida: Your little ones might like it, though!

    Chris: lol! I really think you'll like Almond. And for some reason I had no idea he'd worked with Dave McKean either. The day I heard it was the day I ordered the book :P

    Christina: I agree!

    Melody: I'm thinking you're all scared too easily :P (Kidding, kidding)

    Guatami: I hope your nephew does enjoy it :)

  18. Yet another one I have to track down after seeing it on your blog :)

  19. This book sounds great! And the drawing kind of remind me of those in The Graveyard Book. I need to read me some Almond soon!

  20. The cover is a bit creepy, but the book sounds interesting. You're always introducing me to new things.

    Btw, I have a little something for you here.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  21. I am really looking forward to reading Skelling. When me and Alex were in London one day we went to Foyles book store and they had a display of the original artwork Dave McKean had done on display and for sale. We spent ages looking around but sadly couldn't afford any.

    Enjoy your children's book! WIll try and get something read this week for it.

  22. I have this. I dug it out of the books cupboard at work when I saw Dave McKean's name on the cover.
    I guess now I have to read it ...

  23. Savage is the first book that really made me appreciate Dave McKean's work. I already enjoyed David Almond's writing style but McKean was "new" to me. Now I'm going on a McKean binge reading the books he's illustrated for Neil Gaiman. I also enjoy his movie, MirrorMask.

  24. Lenore, I hope you enjoy it :)

    J.S. Peyton: It makes sense! McKean's style is very much recognizable :)

    Anne: Like I was telling Melody, I'm actually surprised so many of you think so! And thanks again, are very sweet :D

    Rhinoa: I imagine original McKean art to be very expensive! But still, how awesome that you got to see the display!

    Maree: Yes, read it!

    pussreboots: I enjoyed Mirrormask a lot too, as well as his books with Neil Gaiman. There's one called Crazy Hair coming out later this year :)

  25. I just have to say that that is one of the creepiest book covers I've ever seen.

  26. This one sounds just like the books I'd read! Thanks for the great review, Ana! I'm definitely going to get this. Soon.

  27. This looks really good! What you said about Almond writing about kids and grief/loss was kinda what I thought after reading Skellig. It was like he was trying to point out that kids have feelings that are just as powerful and important (if not more so) than adults.

    You know how people always say children are adaptable and that they get over things easier than adults - I don't think that's true and it was a thought I returned to a few times when reading Skellig.

  28. Natasha: lol, it seems that everyone thinks so but me :P

    Alice, I think you'd enjoy it a lot!

    Joanne: I completely agree. Sometimes adults tend to dismiss children's emotional experiences and to not take any of their feelings seriously, and that can't be a good thing.

  29. Waaahhh! Now I want to read this too. *glances uneasily at intimidating books-to-be-read pile*

  30. Hi. I thought I'd commented on this already, but turns out I hadn't. I saw this at the library yesterday and picked it up remembering your review. Oh my god, I'm so glad I did. It was beautiful. I had a tear in my eye at the last page. It was perfect.

  31. Tarie: I know how intimidating the pile can get :P

    Michelle, I'm so glad you loved it as much as I did!


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