I picked up Skellig by David Almond at Half Price Books for a dollar. I believe I was vaguely aware of it being a young adult classic (the edition I picked up is the Printz Honor hardback after all) but it sat on the shelf for quite a while as I stumbled on numerous references to its quality and meaning to read it. Finally the mood struck and I read it.
Ten-year-old Michael was looking forward to moving into a new house. But now his baby sister is ill, his parents are frantic, and Doctor Death has come to call. Michael feels helpless. Then he steps into the crumbling garage . . . What is this thing beneath the spiderwebs and dead flies? A human being, or a strange kind of beast never before seen? The only person Michael can confide in is his new friend, Mina. Together they carry the creature out into the light, and Michael’s world changes forever. . . .
I really should have read this book a long time ago.
It is a simple and yet powerful story of friendship, family, compassion and faith. It is written with directness and yet somehow also manages to be mysterious and keep the magic just off stage – and thus the reader yearning for more – until the end. Almond doesn’t insist that the story be “explained” or that everything be wrapped up neat and tidy by the end – the mystery is allowed to be just that, a mystery.
There are powerful emotions at work and yet it didn’t strike me as overly sentimental or emotionally manipulative. The emotions are real and presented honestly – they resonate with the reader no matter what the age.
And the characters are equally real and believable despite the shortness of the book which says something about the author’s talent. He really captures the dynamics involved in new friendship, family and school. He doesn’t overload you with details or explain everything. Instead you feel like you are dropped into a real family, neighborhood, school, etc. As the story develops you meet the characters and get to know them via their interaction with Michael and thus through his eyes.
This is another example of what children’s or young adult literature can be; full of life and ideas but powerfully explored through story.
I think PW got it exactly right:
British novelist Almond makes a triumphant debut in the field of children’s literature with prose that is at once eerie, magical and poignant.
I am going to read the prequel, My Name Is Mina, very soon. I am not going to regret not having read a book for months this time around …
- My Name is Mina by David Almond – review (guardian.co.uk)