Rowan the Strange by Julie Hearn
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|Rowan the Strange by Julie Hearn|
|Reviewer: Jason Mark Curley|
|Summary: Diagnosed with schizophrenia, a young teenager is sent to a psychiatric hospital at the very start of World War II.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 252||Date: April 2009|
It's September 1939 and war has just been declared. Rowan is sitting on the doorstep when his Grandmother arrives, stalling and doing anything to avoid having to go with her on an emergency mission. He can hear his sister in the house, practising Moonlight Sonata on the piano. That's when the voices start, telling him a bomb will fall on them if he doesn't stop his sister playing. He tried to convince her but she doesn't listen, but the voices only get louder. He shuts the lid on her, breaking three of her fingers like twigs.
His Gran gets him away, driving like a maniac over to the German Ambassador's residence, where his dog has been left as he fled the country. They are stopped by a jobsworth policeman who eventually accompanies them to the house. The dog is distressed, and as Rowan's Grandmother tried to calm it the policeman won't shut up. The voices start again and Rowan draws a super-sharp pen knife to take to the policeman, but as the voices get louder he ends up stabbing himself.
Rowan has always been strange; his sisters call him Ro the Strange. But these recent events have been too much and his parents decide to get him help. While other children are being evacuated to the country, Rowan is sent to a psychiatric hospital where the latest treatments are available. But when he falls under the care of Doctor von Metzer he's subjected to an experimental treatment, so controversial, not even his parents have been told about it.
I have to tell you all, I couldn't put this book down and I mean that quite literally. I was reading it till 4am when I had a class the following morning. This is quite possibly the most amazing work of children's fiction I've read in the last two years. To give you something short and pithy, this book falls somewhere between Pat Barker's Regeneration and Michelle Magorian's Goodnight Mr Tom.
This book uses an omniscient narrative voice which, given the subject matter, works particularly well. It also enables a greater level of engagement with the book's subplots. The characters are absolutely fantastic, stunningly realised and brought to the page with such gusto that I didn't want it to end.
It probably goes without saying that this book is very dark, unsurprisingly but shockingly dark. So much so it might be worth chatting to younger children about the themes of this book if they're reading it. I get the distinct feeling that this novel will find itself on the national curriculum suggested texts list before long.
If I could give this book a higher rating than five stars, I would. I'm going to have to go back and read Julie's other novels now. If this is anything to go by they are probably excellent.
Thanks to the publishers for sending me a copy.
If this book appeals to you then we think that you might also enjoy Auslander by Paul Dowswell.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Rowan the Strange by Julie Hearn at Amazon.com.
Rowan the Strange by Julie Hearn is in the Top Ten Book Recommendations From Twitterers.
Rowan the Strange by Julie Hearn is in the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize 2009.
Rowan the Strange by Julie Hearn is in the Carnegie Medal Shortlist 2010.
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