Heaven Eyes by David Almond

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Heaven Eyes by David Almond

Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Deeply rooted in the traditional ways of story-telling, Heaven Eyes is about the magic of life itself, expressed through wonder, awe, happiness and sorrow. Yet it is also deeply rooted in reality and the modern world. A lyrical and complex book, the sensitive, artistic child will love it.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: June 2000
Publisher: Signature
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 0340743689

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"My name is Erin Law. My friends are January Carr and Mouse Gullane. This is the story of what happened when we sailed away from Whitegates that Friday night. Some people will tell you that none of these things happened. They'll say they were just a dream that the three of us shared. But they did happen. We did meet Heaven Eyes on the Black Middens. We did dig the saint out of the mud. We did see Grampa return to the river. And we did bring Heaven Eyes home with us. She lives happily here among us. People will tell you that this is not Heaven Eyes. They'll say she's just another damaged child like ourselves. But she is Heaven Eyes. You?ll know her easily. Look at her toes and her fingers. Listen to her strange sweet voice. Watch how she seems to see through all the darkness in the world to the joy that lies beneath. It is her. These things happened. January, Mouse and I were there to see them all. Everything is true. So listen."

Erin and her friends January and Mouse live with other children at Whitegates. It's a children's home run by Maureen, who is full of sympathy for her damaged children. To them though, it's not a welcome sympathy for they can see, far more clearly than Maureen, that her sympathy springs from her own 'damage' and it's as much sympathy for herself as for any of them. Erin's mother died; she never had a father, January's mother abandoned him at birth, and Mouse's father abandoned him too, leaving him outside the gates of the home with the words 'PLEASE LOOK AFTER ME' crudely tattooed on his arm. "He loved me," said Mouse. "He must have." Agonising, isn't it? January is convinced that one day his mother will return for him and Erin sometimes steals away to her room, puts on her mother's lipstick and perfume and lies on her bed trying to conjour up the image of her loved parent. It's her ritual and her comfort and it's heart-piercingly sad.

But Erin and her friends don't want to live with Maureen at Whitegates in Maureen's world of counselling and therapy. They don't want to talk away and rationalise their damage; they want to hold it close to them because it's their history. They want to keep it, not to be caught fast in a world where they are damaged children but because it's theirs. They want it kept safe but they also want to be free and happy and to take a fierce young joy in life. And so they constantly run away, sometimes for just a few hours, sometimes for the whole day, and sometimes for weeks on end. And one day Erin, January and Mouse make a raft from old doors and float away down the river towards freedom.

They are washed up in the Black Middens, an old industrial estate that is waiting for the demolition men to move in. And they are found by Heaven Eyes, a strange young girl with beautiful eyes and hands and feet that seem webbed. Heaven Eyes lives with her Grampa in the Black Middens, avoiding all other human contact. They eat corned beef and chocolate from crates in an old warehouse and they seem happy writing their diary and collecting their trinkets. By day Grampa is caretaker; patrolling and keeping the ghosts at bay and by night he is treasure-seeker, digging and digging in the Black Middens for the treasure that belongs to Heaven Eyes.

Erin and Heaven Eyes sense an immediate bond and Erin is lost in her new friendship, she doesn't see danger or evil but January and Mouse are afraid of this eerie place. They want to continue their bid for freedom. And so the children spend uneasy days in the strange world of the Black Middens and H eaven Eyes and Grampa. They dig for treasure too and they are half afraid of what they will find, half desperate to know the secrets. Why is Grampa so fiercely protective of Heaven Eyes, his strange, ethereal charge? What is her history? From where did she come? And what is the treasure Grampa so desperately seeks? Who is the saint? And what is "still as still"? And I'm not telling you any more except to say that, in the words of Heaven Eyes, it "is lovely, memory this".

Go back and read that first paragraph of Heaven Eyes again. Read it aloud. Feel it. Feel its gentle, insistent rhythm. And see how the story, the plot, the 'what happens' is not as important as the telling of the tale, of a person's need to tell their tale and of people's need to hear it told. Heaven Eyes is in some ways a book of tradition, it tells a sad but uplifting story in the oldest of ways, almost an oral one, and because of that it draws you in immediately. And yet it's also a story of its time and has comment to make on today's world of therapy and social workers. But then, weren't all those old stories also contemporary comment?

Heaven Eyes is an honest, sometimes even brutal acknowledgement that this isn't always a happy world but it's also a life-affirming story written with a dazzling emotional intensity that defies categorisation. It's not a children's book and it's not a book for adults either. I can't really think of it as A Book. It has too much of life in it for that. Heaven Eyes has magic in it too, although I'm not sure I agree with many of the reviews which centre the whole story around it. It's not about the magic of witches and wizards and spells, or even the magic of the supernatural, but rather the magic of life itself, expressed through Heaven Eyes and her Grampa, but experienced by Erin and January and Mouse. To me it is resonant of the strong metaphor of the stories of oral peoples, or of the famous myths and legends that have existed in one way or another across peoples, cultures and countless generations. Sometimes the way life is can be explained best by someone like Heaven Eyes; David Almond is right and his Erin is right, she's as real as anything could be.

"We come into the world out of the dark. We haven't got a clue where we've come from. We've got no idea where we're going. But while we're here in the world, if we're brave enough, we'll flap our wings and fly."

Children who like the oral storytelling tradition might also like Red Dog by Louis de Bernieres.

Buy Heaven Eyes by David Almond at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Heaven Eyes by David Almond at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Heaven Eyes by David Almond at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Heaven Eyes by David Almond at Amazon.com.


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dididave said:

You just have to love the style of this and the message in your quote at the end. Sounds like something I would enjoy, never mind the children! Louis de Bernieres I just do not get though. Perhaps, my view is tainted by Captain Corelli, I just did not like that one.