The Seeing by Diana Hendry

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The Seeing by Diana Hendry

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Menacing and atmospheric story with a little bit of the supernatural mixed in with a lot of real life tragedy. Set in post-war Britain, this story is short but beautifully formed. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 176 Date: July 2012
Publisher: Bodley Head
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 037033213X

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Longlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2013

Shortlisted for the Costa Children's Book Award 2012

It's 1956 when Natalie comes storming into the quiet seaside town of Norton and slap-bang into Lizzie's life. Natalie is from the wrong side of the tracks and reserved, well-to-do Lizzie is immediately drawn to this unconventional girl who wears her poverty and neglect like a badge of courage. As the two girls grow closer over the summer, Natalie reveals a shocking secret - her odd younger brother Philip has the gift of second sight and can see "left over Nazis" lying in wait, ready to start another war when the time is right. Natalie says it's up to the three of them to rid Norton of these LONs.

At first, Lizzie is swept along by what seems like a scary but thrilling game. But, as the summer goes on, she becomes more and more uneasy about what they're doing. She tries to extricate herself by spending time with Hugo, an artist, but it's too late. A terrible chain of events has already begun...

There's a real sense of doom and menace about this short but beautifully-formed novel. Lizzie is the main narrator and she's telling the story whilst looking back in time. So we know it doesn't end well, we just don't know how. We also get glimpses into the thoughts of Natalie through excerpts from her diary, and of Hugo through his letters to his sister.

It's easy for Hugo, an adult, and us, the objective readers, to see that Natalie is a damaged and angry child who is to be pitied, not admired. But Lizzie is just coming into adolescence. She's going through that phase where you reject your family and its values, almost feel repelled by them. And her older sister is about to get married and leave home, which makes Lizzie feel both abandoned and jealous. So Natalie, so different, so wild, and appearing so suddenly in Lizzie's life, is a charismatic figure. And before she knows it, Lizzie is completely under Natalie's spell and being dragged into things that she would never have dreamed of doing just a few short weeks before.

The Seeing is a story about many things - about coming of age, about war, about cruelty, and about the terrible effects of neglect and abuse. Into this kitchen sink drama, Hendry expertly weaves a little bit of mysticism and a real sense of an historical period. Her elegant prose and tight narrative bring her characters into sharp focus on the page. And it's all so good that you just can't stop reading until you get to the end.

Highly recommended.

Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough is a much bigger book, but is also set in post-war Britain, is as beautifully-written and has an equal sense of menace. What I Was by Meg Rosoff is set a few years later, in the early sixties, but also tells of a formative but also destructive friendship.

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