In Darkling Wood by Emma Carroll

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In Darkling Wood by Emma Carroll

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Anne Thompson
Reviewed by Anne Thompson
Summary: An enjoyable mix of contemporary and historical this novel has a hint of magic and mystery and should appeal to a wide readership. A sensitive and thoughtful writing style adds to its appeal.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes.
Pages: 320 Date: July 2015
Publisher: Faber and Faber
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780571317578

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In the early hours of the morning, Alice’s mum receives the phone call they have been waiting for. The long-awaited heart transplant that may save her sick brother’s life is now possible. Alice finds herself sent to stay with a grandmother she doesn’t know, miles away from her friends and the life she knows. There is no TV, no phone signal and no internet but Alice feels drawn to the mysterious Darkling Wood surrounding the house despite her grandmother’s wish to have it chopped down. Meanwhile back in 1918 a young girl desperately waits for news of her brother’s safe return from the front. Her mother doesn’t like her playing in the nearby wood but it is there that she discovers secrets and magic that give her hope for the future.

This is the third of Emma Carroll’s novels and having read the previous two I initially thought that this felt very different from her earlier books being set in the present day. Alice’s parents are separated and her father has moved to Devon and now has another child. Alice feels rejected by him as he devotes time to his new family and has not visited even as Theo’s health deteriorates. Whilst her mother stays at the hospital as her brother undergoes the heart transplant, Alice is unhappy at being left with her cold and insensitive grandmother. The first days at the local school are difficult for her too. Thus the scene is set for a story covering familiar ground but then the author introduces us to a young girl from 1918 by way of her letters to her brother who is due to return home now that the war has ended and the main thrust of the story changes completely.

The dual narrative works extremely well as the two girls are linked by the shared worry over their much-loved brothers. Through the letters, we learn of the losses families in the community have endured and the effects of the war on those who were left behind. I found this aspect moving and think it will resonate with young readers at the moment who will be more aware of WW1 due to the centenary being commemorated.

Alice is a thoroughly engaging character who I quickly grew to like. She is caring and desperately trying to put a brave face on her situation in order not to worry her mother. We begin the story by seeing events through Alice’s eyes in a simplistic way but gradually alongside her, we learn more about the circumstances that have caused people to behave in the way they do. In this way, the characters become more developed and the story gains an added depth. Then, of course, there are the fairies of Darkling Wood inspired by the story of the photos of the Cottingley Fairies. Flo, the unusual girl who Alice meets in the wood, is adamant that fairies exist although the practical and sensible Alice is not convinced. Flo is convinced that a belief in the fairies will stop bad things happening to those nearby and is desperate for Alice to believe in them too. Ultimately the fairies in this story are in many ways symbolic of hope and a belief that things will get better both for those recovering from the war and to Alice and her family.

I thoroughly enjoyed this. The writing style is thoughtful and atmospheric and important themes are dealt with kindly and sensitively by Emma Carroll. This is a moving story of families, friendship and fairies but most of all of hope. Last but not least the stunning cover design by Julian de Narvaez deserves a special mention as it adds to the book’s appeal. Thank you to the publishers, Faber Children’s books for supplying this review copy. We also have a review of Carroll's The Girl Who Walked on Air.

For an exciting story with a fairy as a central character suitable for this age group, I would recommend Knife by R J Anderson a charming mix of the traditional fairy tale and modern adventure. If you're looking for a stunning book about fairies, look no further than The Wychwood Fairies by Faye Durston. From Carroll, we've also enjoyed The Week at World's End.

Booklists.jpg In Darkling Wood by Emma Carroll is in the Top Ten Books for Confident Readers 2015.

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