Silver Skin by Joan Lennon

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Silver Skin by Joan Lennon

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Refreshingly original story about a boy from the future who finds himself stuck in Neolithic Skara Brae after a failed attempt at time travelling. Fascinating, absorbing and exciting to read. Recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: June 2015
Publisher: Birlinn
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1780272847

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Rab lives in the distant future, in a world where space is at a premium due to population pressures and in which status is expressed by how much room you have to live in. People's lives are guided and supported by their Coms, AIs which teach, medicate, navigate and all sorts else besides. When Rab's mother buys him a silver skin - time travel technology - Rab is overjoyed. The fieldwork he'll be able to do with it will allow him to produce work that will set him up for life. He decides to investigate the 19th century discovery of the Neolithic village of Skara Brae - because his tower block of the future is built on that very site.

But something goes wrong and Rab is ejected from his status as time travelling observer right into life in Stone Age Skara Brae.

Cait is the apprentice to Skara Brae's wise woman. She is the one who is there when the mysterious creature wearing a silver skin emerges from the sea and promptly bursts into flames. She is the one who nurses him back to health. Voy, the wise woman, believes Rab is a selkie - a supernatural creature, part seal, part human - and that he holds the key to saving Skara Brae, under threat from climate change with its failing sunshine and vicious storms.

Will Rab make it back to his own time? Will Skara Brae survive?

Hooray! I've been thirsting for something a little bit different and I found it in Silver Skin. This story mixes sci-fi and historical fiction to spectacular effect. How would a person from a highly technological future cope in the Neolithic world? Could the vast differences in experience, culture and understanding ever be transcended? Could worthwhile relationships be made? Lennon explores these questions in typically lyrical form. I love the way she describes both landscapes and people and the emotions they feel. Both Rab and Cait are utterly credible characters and it's both fascinating and moving to watch them inch towards a friendship despite the vast gulf between them.

The picture of a technological future in which artificial intelligences support and guide human beings, in which races have blended and in which space is the premium currency, is a picture I can believe in. But I think the picture of Neolithic society has the bigger emotional pull. The remains of Skara Brae form Europe's most complete uncovered Neolithic settlement. What was life like there? How did its people see themselves? How did they survive? Lennon presents an entrancing picture of a hard life but one rich with meaning. The story is set in the weeks leading up to the end of its occupation. What happened? Did Skara Brae's people abandon it? Was there an extreme weather event? We don't know for sure, but Lennon gives us a credible interpretation.

It's original. It's interesting. It's imaginative. It's beautifully written. The plot is compelling. And it mixes science and the supernatural to great effect. I really liked Silver Skin. Can you tell?!

Highly recommended.

You might also enjoy Song Hunter by Sally Prue, a wonderful story stretching back into prehistory and looking at one of the encounters between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens that we now know took place.

Booklists.jpg Silver Skin by Joan Lennon is in the Top Ten Books for Teens 2015.

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