Oct 27, 2009

Kit’s Wilderness by David Almond

Kit’s Wilderness by David Almond

After his grandmother dies, Kit and his family move to Stoneygate, an old mining town, so they can be with his grandfather. There, Kit becomes drawn to the wilderness, the empty space between the houses and the spot of the ancient coal pit. He also almost-befriends a boy named Askew, who everyone believes to be trouble. But as is often the case, there are secrets behind his troublemaking. Kit has to adapt to a new school, a new town, and a new reality. And soon after the move, he realizes that he also has to deal with something much more difficult: his grandfather’s serious illness.

I had no idea how much Kit’s Wilderness was affecting me until, in the last few chapters, I suddenly found myself crying. It’s not uncommon for books to make me cry, but this time it was unexpected – it really crept up on me. How does David Almond do it?

I noticed quite a few parallels between this book and The Savage, which I read and loved earlier this year: both focus on storytelling quite a bit, and both blur the line between stories and reality. Both emphasize the healing power of stories as well as human connections, and both are about young boys dealing with loss – or imminent loss. But it’s not that reading The Savage first made Kit’s Wilderness feel redundant; not at all. It’s just that these are very David Almond-ish themes. And I love him for that.

As the previous Almond books I’ve read, Kit’s Wilderness was very tender and very human in a subtle sort of way. Also, a lot of what I said about River Boy last week is true of this book too – I really meant it when I said Bowler and Almond reminded me of each other. I loved the sympathy with which John Askew, a working class boy with a difficult family background, was treated—a sympathy that never brushes pity or condescension. In a way, this is a story about class, and about the all too real ways in which dire economic circumstances affect people. But it’s also about seeing beyond appearances, believing in people, truly respecting them, giving them a chance.

And also as with River Boy, I loved the protagonist’s relationship with his grandfather. Kit’s grandfather tells him stories about his days as a miner, about how the town used to be, about the group of boys who died in the pit in one of the much too common mining accidents, about how much he's seen the world change in his lifetime. And then, when due to his illness his memory starts to go (which is absolutely heartbreaking to see), Kit keeps his stories.

Another thing I loved was the book’s sense of place: I’ve never been to the part of England where the story is set, but Bart, who knows it well, says the landscape is spot on. Even though the wilderness is described in a magical, almost surreal sort of way, it still feels very much grounded in reality, and very much alive.

I worry a bit that I’m making it sound like any David Almond book is just like any other David Almond book, which is really not the case. They do seem to have a similar tone, as well as thematic similarities, but they also each have their own very specific mood. Kit’s Wilderness’s is like that moment when the sun suddenly breaks through in a very overcast day. David Almond is lovely and perceptive and I want to read all his books.

Favourite passages:
Some days it was worse, long periods when he just sat on the sofa or at the table with his body slumped and the blankness in his eyes. One day I saw with Mum after school in the living room and we watched him: two minutes, three minutes, four minutes, and he went on with his eyes just dead and blank, staring, but like he was seeing nothing inside and nothing outside.
‘Oh, dear,’ Mum whispered. ‘Poor soul.’
‘Maybe he’s just remembering,’ I told her. ‘Like he always did.’
‘No, son,’ she whispered. ‘What he’s doing is forgetting.’

‘The earth endlessly reforms itself,’ he said. ‘The continents shift, the surface cracks, fire bursts out from below. The hills are simply blown away. The sea swells and shrinks. The world tilts on its axis and brings us fiery heat or icy cold. Deserts or the ice cap creep across us. All we see and all we know is engulfed, swallowed up, regurgitated.’
He smiled.
‘We are puny little things,’ he said. ‘The beast called Time is our great predator, and there is no escape from it.’ He smiled again. ‘However. That is not to say there is no need to do our homework.’
They read it too:
The Written World & Bart’s Bookshelf (joint review)
Inkweaver
Fiddle-de-dee’s not English
Biblio File

(Let me know if I missed yours.)

29 comments:

  1. Can't say I've ever heard of Mr. Almond. Do you have a sug for the first book of his I should try? thx, Care

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  2. I really need to read David Almond. I think I shall add him to my list of authors that I need to read next year. I would definitely read this. Most of my family on my mother's side were miners,so this book would hold a personal interest to me.

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  3. This is an author I'm not familiar with..will need to check this out!

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  4. This is another one of these authors that I've yet to read anything by but know they must be so good. I think I need to check out Alyce's recent challenge...

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  5. I've read Skellig and liked it. I'll add this one to the list.

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  6. I read Skellig a couple years ago and the themes seem very similar based on your review of Kit's Wilderness. It was so beautifully done, and it made me cry (but in a good way, I don't want to discourage anyone!). I highly recommend it.

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  7. Okay, so I already got Skellig thanks to you, and added The Savage to the wish list. And now I'll be adding this one. I guess I might as well just add all his books, because it's seems pretty evident, you'll be making me do that eventually anyway. ;)
    This really does sound like a lovely, lovely book.

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  8. Love the quotes you chose- they're lovely. I will have to look out for this author.

    I realized that I cannot read another book while Unseen Academicals is on the shelf. I have not been doing Sword at Sunset justice; I have been skimming the battle sections, and really... most of the book for the past 70 pages has been battles! That in itself makes it hard for me to concentrate on it, and it's worse when Pratchett is on the table and I know Vetinari (of my possible future husbands, no less!) is drunk in there, somewhere. So, switching up!

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  9. This does sound like a book that would make you cry!

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  10. My kids had to read Kit's Wilderness when they were in fifth grade, and both of them liked it enough that then they went and found Skellig and read it. That's when I read both of them. I remember liking what I perceived as a dreamy quality about the first part of Kit's Wilderness.

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  11. Oh, I think I would just cry and cry if I read this book right now. The first favorite passage you share reminds me of watching my grandmother a few years ago as she slowly left us because of Alzheimers. So heartbreaking to watch someone forget practically everything and everyone. Nice review of Almond's book :o)

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  12. Really glad you liked this one, and your absolutely right, it's a lot to do with the mood he captures, that makes his books such a joy to read.

    (and here is a link I shared with Kelly when we did our review :), you'll recognise one of the songs that if quoted a couple of times in the novel)

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  13. I am not sure what it was with me and this book. I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it. It just didn't work for me...

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  14. This sounds really interesting. I think I'll have to put it on my list-- I'm always up for a good cry! :)

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  15. Great review! I love it when an author becomes familiar to me and I can see the similarities and differences in his body of work. I think that may be what is happening with you and Almond's work. I recently bought a copy of Skellig after reading your review, and I'm really looking forward to it!

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  16. Care, I've only read 3, and all would be good starting places, I think. Maybe Skellig? Or this, or The Savage :P

    Vivienne: Yes, definitely add him to your list! And I bet that would make it even more appealing, yes.

    JoAnn, he's quickly become one of my favourite children's authors!

    Amanda: It sounds like I need to check out her challenge too!

    Gavin, then I really think you'd like this too.

    Karen: Skelling was my first Almond, and I thought it was lovely too :)

    Debi: lol! I'm afraid so, yes :P

    Aarti: Ha, that has happened to me :D Read it, read it! You know you want to.

    Kathy: It did :(

    Jeanne: Yes, a dreamy quality is a perfect way to put it!

    Terri B: I'm so sorry you and your family and your grandmother had to go through that :(

    Bart: Oooh, thanks for the link! If I'm not mistaken that legend was mentioned in Alice in Sunderland too.

    Kelly: You know, it reminded me a bit of One for Sorrow, and as you didn't manage to get into that one either, it makes sense :P

    She: I don't know what it is about me and tear-jerkers lately :P

    Zibilee, yes, I think that's starting to happen :) I love it when it does.

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  17. I'm also unfamiliar with this author. He sounds good- I'll keep my eyes out for any of his books now!

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  18. This sounds like a book that would also leave me in tears. ON MY TBR IT GOES. :)

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  19. I think I should get all David Almond books out there. Hahaha! I mean gee, I bought Skellig on a whim and it turned out to be that perfectly written little book and now your lovely review of this.

    Sigh. The drawback to regaining my reading groove is the number of books I might want to read after lovely, lovely reviews such as this. Sigh.

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  20. This sounds like something I think I would like, and I remember your review of Skellig as well. on to the wishlist it goes. :)

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  21. seriously, I feel like leaving all my books and starting with something by David Almond, never read anything by him before.
    Nice passage too.

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  22. I got swept up in your beautifully crafted review! I am adding this to my TBR list.

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  23. I've read Heaven Eyes, also by David Almond. Skellig, by the same author, is on my TBR list.

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  24. This is a wonderful review, Nymeth! I haven't read anything by David Almond but I'm going to. I love books that really engage my emotions. And this story is filled with wonderful themes! This sounds like a book definitely worth taking the time to read.

    Thank you!

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  25. Hi Nymeth--
    I am just stopping by because I have a read-a-thon related question and I wasn't sure who else to contact. I was the winner of one of the last mini-challenges in the wee last hours, and was told to email for my prize information. Well I have emailed a couple of times and have heard nothing back. Is that the norm or should I be concerned?
    My email is kimmery4(at)yahoo(dot)com

    Thanks for any help--
    *smiles*
    Kim

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  26. I love SKELLIG and I suspect I'm going to love this too. Thanks for the review, Ana!

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  27. I read this quite some time ago...now you've made me want to ead it again.

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  28. I reviewed this in April:

    http://www.jenrothschild.com/2009/04/voices-from-our-pre-historic-past.html

    Sadly, my take was not as positive as yours. There's something about Almond I just can't get into. Ah well.

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  29. Jeane, I hope you enjoy whichever one you pick up :)

    Lu: It did me :( But not in a bad way!

    Lightheaded: Yep :P And so should I!!

    Amy, I think you'd enjoy them both!

    Violet: I just love the way he writes. I'm glad you liked the passage!

    Stephanie, you are always so kind!!

    Aleggra: I haven't read Heaven Eyes yet, but it's on the list!

    Amy, thank you! Those themes are so very Almond-ish. I agree that they're wonderful!

    Kim, I've e-mailed you - sorry again!

    Alice, I think you will :D

    Staci: I can see myself revisiting it too!

    Jennie: Thanks you the link, and I'm sorry to hear it didn't quite work for you!

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.