Kit's Wilderness by David Almond

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Kit's Wilderness by David Almond

Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: In Kit's Wilderness, Almond blends past and present, legend and reality, joy and pain in a way that is as old as the hills. He has a beautiful and challenging, but accessible style. This is one of his best. Wonderful for any child of feeling, although it is challenging enough for you to wait until they're 12 or up.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: January 2008
Publisher: Hodder Children's Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0340944967

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"'Used to get a laugh here long ago,' he said. 'Used to come at night as kids. Used to dance in a ring around the monument and chant the Our Father backwards. Used to say we'd see the faces of those old pit kids blooming in the dark.' He laughed. 'Bloody terrifying. Used to belt home laughing and screaming, scared half to death. Kids games, eh? What they like?'"

Christopher Watson, aged thirteen, Kit, is just like his grandfather. He was born to tell stories. He was born to hear stories, to absorb them, to gather the spirits and the meanings of the past and to tell them on so that their sense and their truths will burnish the present and spur it on to the future. Kit's family has come to Stoneygate, an old mining village, shortly after the death of his grandmother. His grandfather's health is failing, although his bright eyes and living stories are not, and the family feel the need to be close to him and to care for him. The monument is to a pit disaster over a hundred years ago where many, including the children who worked the mines in those days. A previous Kit is engraved on it amidst the many names - Christopher Watson, aged thirteen. Above his name is another, John Askew, aged also thirteen. Another John Askew, aged thirteen, is one of the first people Kit has met at his new school. Askew is one of those dark, angry children from a troubled, "rough" family and yet Kit feels an affinity with him that is both a present one and yet also one that is something unexplainable, but surely from the past.

Today's Stoneygate children have a game too: it is Askew's game, the game of Death. Though the coal mine has long been closed, it holds an understandable yet indefinable fascination for the town's children. For Kit Watson and John Askew with their peculiar, confusing affinity it holds a particular allure. Although Kit is the new boy, it is obvious that the game belongs to him and Askew more than the others, some of whom come because of the almost hypnotic intensity of Askew and some, like the vivacious bad-good girl, Allie Keenan come just for experiment. Every so often, the small bunch of adolescents troop down into the pit. There, with only the light of a candle, with knives and illicit cigarettes, they play the game of Death.

"The water came to me and I sipped it. The cigarette came to me and I drew on it.... I stared down at the knife as Askew laid it on the glass.

'Whose turn is it to die?' he whispered.

'Death,' we all chanted. 'Death Death Death Death...'

The knife shimmered, spinning. It spun on and on.

Me, I thought, as it spun to me and then away again.

Me, not me, me, not me, me, not me...

And then it slowed and came to rest.

Me."

These are the games that children sometimes play as they seek to answer questions they're not even sure how to form. They are frightening games, but then they are often frightening questions. And after the game is played Kit doesn't feel quite the same, in his "living death" the world of stories becomes more and more real to him. Against the backdrop of his grandfather's failing health and the worry that brings his family, the trouble the discovery of the game brings, and the rehearsals for the school play as Allie takes the part of the Ice Princess, the drama of John Askew and his father is played out through Kit and his world of past stories. It is the world of Lak the Ice Age boy who searches for his lost family and protects his baby sister, the world of the ghosts of the pit children from the long ago disaster, it is Kit's world of imagination and his grandfather's world of the recent past, but it is also a world full of spirits that encroach on the "real" world of here and now. Just as Lak's mother begs Kit in his dreams to return her child to her so does Askew's mother ask the same from him when her son disappears into the wilderness beyond the village after a terrible scene with his drunken father. Can Kit find his friend and bring him home? Will Lak's mother find her son? And are the spirits real or simply the imaginings of a sensitive child as he tries to make sense of his grandfather's dementia and approaching death and the disappearance of his friend?

Those are the bones of this beautiful, slow-moving book of dreams. But just as the bones from Lak's time, long ago hold so much more in history and significance than their mere physical property so does Kit's Wilderness. There is enough in this slim, sparely-written book to fill another five volumes I think and yet it's all between the lines. Here we are asked to consider the past, and the rich nature of the experience from it which has made the present not only possible but beautiful and ours, and the future, also ours, which will bring changes we can embrace without ever forgetting the honour we should show for those past people and events. It is also a tale of redemption and the power of the bonds that human love can bring, it's a story of the darkness in the world but also the light. Almond is not afraid to show children that the meaning of joy is lessened when there is no knowledge of pain. Although sometimes frightening and often eerie, to me the distillation of those bare bones of Kit's Wilderness can be seen in the relationship between Kit and his grandfather, the sweetest relationship of all: that between a young, growing person and an old, experienced one. Its real theme is that of a kind of web of life, in which all things are interconnected - the old and the new, the past and the future, the imagination and the physical senses, and the spiritual and the earthly. It also assures us that through stories and with love we can share the things that sometimes seem so private:

"How could I tell them about the power of ghosts and stories, about the caves and tunnels in our heads, about a boy and his mother from the from the deep dark frozen past? How could I tell them about about the dead ones that surround us, about John Askew, aged thirteen, and Christopher Watson, aged thirteen? How could I tell them the truth about the pebbles that I carried in my palm? But I told them Askew's pain and fright, about his loneliness. I told them about the baby inside him that had never had a chance to grow. I told them that there was something in him and something in me that kept drawing us together."

It is rare to find a writer who speaks your own truths directly at you, who crystallizes your swirling, unsure thoughts about so many things and puts them down in a book, clearly articulated, so that it seems he wrote it just for you. I seem to have found that writer in David Almond and I'm so very glad of it. I'll leave you with some words to Kit from his grandfather, they are what I'd like to say to my own children every day until they're grown and then what I'd like them to say to theirs:

"What I'd like to give you most of all is what's inside. The tales and memories and dreams that keep the world alive."

Yes, that's it.

Another magical story that intertwines past and present and has points to make about social issues is The Owl Service, by Alan Garner.

Buy Kit's Wilderness by David Almond at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Kit's Wilderness by David Almond at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Kit's Wilderness by David Almond at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Kit's Wilderness by David Almond at Amazon.com.


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