Season of Secrets by Sally Nicholls

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Season of Secrets by Sally Nicholls

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A dollop of magical realism blends with some real kitchen sink drama in a story where myth blends with a little girl very much of today. Beautifully told, with a clear authorial voice - a voice to look out for.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: April 2009
Publisher: Marion Lloyd Books
ISBN: 1407105132

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Molly and her sister Hannah are living with their grandparents in the country. Their mother died of a brain aneurysm and their father can't cope with his grief and has turned inwards, refusing to accept the responsibility of his own children - or their grief. Hannah's grief is overt - manifesting itself in rebellion, rudeness and all manner of bad behaviour. But Molly isn't like that. She's a thinker and a dreamer, and she copes by living a rich imaginative life. Sometimes, her stories aren't exactly true. But she really does see a man being hunted by a pack of wolves and a rider with horns in the lane one night. Some call him the Oak King, some the Green Man. Either way, he is the god of summer, and Jack Frost is hunting him down.

Season of Secrets blends the old legend with Molly's real-life sadness to wonderful effect. As summer dies and autumn draws on, her "man" grows weaker, powerless to stop the advance of winter. Nature follows suit, and so does the cycle of Molly's family's grief. It's a lovely book, gently written, but with great understanding and a wonderful ear and eye for the black-and-white world of a child. Molly's voice is absolutely authentic and often heartbreaking - I wonder if I'm going to spend my whole life living in the corner of someone else's family.

But Molly, like her sister, and her father, and the Oak King, has to follow the cycle. Grief has its stages, just as the year does, and the real lesson is that life is all about following them through. Nobody is perfect, even the Oak King, as Molly discovers when he is ascendant and the hunt is reversed, and that includes her father. He has done a terrible thing in abandoning his children, but it's still part of the cycle, and it can be put right.

It's a simple story, told simply, but it's dealing with some complicated and intense emotional issues and it does it in a tremendously accessible way - the influences of people like Alan Garner and David Almond are obvious in the supernatural elements, but there are also echoes of the confidence and ease of other writers such as Jacqueline Wilson in the way Nicholls is talking to her readers. There's a moment where she breaks the fourth wall to recommend Pippi Longstocking as a fictional heroine, and even I felt reassured by it! Her previous book was very different, talking about a little boy dying of leukaemia, and it's clear Nicholls is shaping up to be a writer of great versatility. Season of Secrets comes highly recommended and Bookbag is looking forward to seeing what she does next.

My thanks to the nice people at Marion Lloyd for sending the book.

The obvious further reading is Skellig by David Almond, which has a central character with similar troubles and is the creme de la creme of magic realism for children. Ancient beliefs come alive in their own time in Bloodline by Katy Moran, while The Owl Service by Alan Garner will suit slightly older children, but also blends ancient myth with the present day. Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr is a creepier tale, but uses its supernatural elements as a metaphor for illness, not grief and family break up.

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Buy Season of Secrets by Sally Nicholls at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Season of Secrets by Sally Nicholls at


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