The Hypnotist by Laurence Anholt

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The Hypnotist by Laurence Anholt

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Powerful story set in the Jim Crow Deep South, exploring prejudice, PTSD and hypnotism. Delightfully riffing off Great Expectations, it speaks of the redeeming power of love.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: October 2016
Publisher: Corgi
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 0552573450

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Longlisted for the 2018 CILIP Carnegie Medal

Pip's parents died in a traffic accident and he has been living in an orphanage ever since. He has only one treasured possession - a battered copy of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, given to him by his schoolteacher mother. That's how Pip got his name and he has a vague but treasured memory of his own father telling him of his own great expectations. It's thanks to his ability to read that Pip finds himself released into the care - well, sold, actually - of old Zachary, who wants a companion for his bedridden wife, Lilybelle, at Dead River Farm. Lilybelle likes being read to.

But this is the Deep South of the United States in the 1960s. The Vietnam War is raging. Segregation still exists. The KKK is active. And Pip is black, while Zachary and Lilybelle are white. As is their son, Erwin, who has returned damaged from Vietnam and who believes wholeheartedly in white supremacy. Add into the mix a beautiful, wild, mute Native American girl also employed at Dead River and an Irish professor, skilled in hypnotism, and a powerful story of prejudice and danger imbued with a strange wildness ensues...

Oh! I found The Hypnotist to be such a compelling read. Told by both Pip and Jack Morrow, the professor, we feel strongly the oppressive structures of segregation from two points of view - via the oppressed themselves and via the shock and horror of outsiders. Pip navigates as best he can while Jack tries to subvert as best he can. But both live in fear of the dangerous and unstable Erwin. We also hear from Hannah, who may be mute, but sings beautiful songs to herself in her head. I don't want to say too much about the storyline itself for fear of spoilers but it's all a wonderful blend of kitchen sink realism, accurate historical detail and an atmospheric dollop of magic realism. Anyone interested in hypnosis will find it fascinating, too.

Laurence Anholt (along with his wife, Catherine) is best known for his many, wonderful books for younger children. One of our favourites is One World Together. The Hypnotist is his debut novel for YA readers - but really, you couldn't tell. It's a very assured piece of writing. It draws you in from the very first page and keeps your attention until the last. I would recommend reading the afterword, which explains the way in which avoiding one story led Anholt to this story - but that both stories have the same impulse: to explore oppression, prejudice and what it is to be powerless. The Hypnotist does a wonderful job on all these things. And how could you not be well-disposed towards any YA novel that riffs on Dickens?!


If you want to read more about segregation in the US, you could do no better than the classic Roll Of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D Taylor

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