Julia and the Shark by Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Tom de Freston
|Julia and the Shark by Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Tom de Freston|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: Get beyond the derivative here – for the creators certainly prove they can, with this dramatic illustrated novel featuring a most unusual parental obsession.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 224||Date: September 2021|
|Publisher: Orion Children's Books|
|External links: Author's website|
OK, so while the expectations and comments from the intended readers of this book will range from OMG wow!! up to pure expletive at inaudible frequencies, I have to mention my expectations and comments. And my first impression was that this book was not at all subtle enough in doing what it was setting out to do. Julia, our pre-teen heroine, has been packed off with her parents and their cat from the family home in SW England to be lighthousekeepers for a summer, in the far NE of the Scottish islands. Here be Vikings, that kind of Scottish island. Dad is going to be automating the lantern, which is his specialist thing, while mum will be leaving her career in algae behind to hunt the elusive Greenland shark. And Julia, well, she will be homesick and alone – until she suddenly finds company one night.
The issues are there, however, even if the qualities and the pleasure of reading these pages are there, too. One is that this book wants to chime with the autistic savant thing – Julia admitting she doesn't do numbers, yet hoarding information from the mother she's excessively proud of, and having something of the parents' genius about her, which is echoed in her new friend's astronomy. This might almost be called The Curious Incident of the Shark in the Lanternlight, or something. The other issue is that, with this aiming for (and succeeding in that aim of) a mature-seeming, grungy, dark visual feel, we're instantly reminded of another Well-Disguised Issue Book featuring illness. It's blatantly obvious too soon that the mother is obsessed for a reason with the shark she seeks, as it is said to live slowly through to a ripe old age. Some people have reasons to want to slow certain biological processes, you know.
So while there is not a reason for Liam Neeson to practice the voice of a lighthouse for the as-yet-unrealised film version of this, the core elements of its DNA were writ too large for me. Or so they felt for a good (for which read bad) chunk. In the end, however, with a few revelations that we've been led up the garden path a little, this just about manages to be its own thing. Let's face it, the number of times we're happy to read formulaic, genre pages, and it's the fact two thirds of the core of this that are vaguely relatable to other books that I'm quibbling about? Nothing, but nothing, for this age range has attempted using a shark in so symbolical a way as here, and if they have they will not have succeeded at all as well as this. Reading this felt like watching a very familiar movie, yet halfway through the cut jumping to a brand new director, doing entirely different things and with a bigger budget to take us to unexpected places. And when they had full flight – author, designers, all the creators ensemble – they certainly took us there with a drive that was undeniable. All feeling that this was manipulating itself to look like other people's prior successes kind of got washed away.
Anyway, the fact this does have a recognisable feel to it will probably not hurt it. This will explode this year, and I did ultimately feel privileged to see this long before it's on everyone's lips. Four stars plus, in the finish.
For a further book concerning disease that has a more blatant approach to letting the fantasy onto the pages, we recommend Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses by Kristen O'Neal.
You can read more book reviews or buy Julia and the Shark by Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Tom de Freston at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy Julia and the Shark by Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Tom de Freston at Amazon.com.
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