David Almond,
(Random House, 2006; Delacorte, 2008)

Once again, David Almond explores childhood relationships with a touch of metaphysics and a coming-of-age story. In Clay, Davie is a cheerful and thoughtful altar boy who isn't above a bit of mischief but is comfortable in his faith. He and his best friend Geordie are nearly inseparable in every way, including their fear of Mouldy, a bully.

Then the village priest asks the boys to befriend a newcomer to the village, an older boy named Stephen whose father is dead and whose mother is in a psychiatric hospital. Stephen was previously in a preparatory school for the priesthood but was asked to leave. Stephen's claim was that it was for holding a Black Mass.

Davie isn't sure what to believe about that, but he does know that there is something odd about Stephen; he can make his clay models come to life. Stephen convinces Davie that he, too, has the gift of life, and Davie agrees to help Stephen create a clay man. He acquires some items from the church that Stephen says are essential, and the boys go to work. When the creature comes to life and seems to be responsible for Mouldy's death, Davie's conscience will not allow the being he calls Clay to continue living or Stephen to continue exploiting Clay.

This retelling of the golem legend combined with a hint of Frankenstein is set in the north country of England where Almond grew up, and his affection for it shows in the descriptions of family and places. The narrative, told in first person by Davie, seems almost hushed, as if he were revealing a secret to the reader, and Davie seems like a person trapped in a nightmare. He is the only person who can wake himself. This is reflected in the thoughtful, gentle pace of the book and the shift from past tense to present tense in the third part of the book.

An interview with Almond at the end of the book adds insight to the story. This won't be a book for every reader, but anyone with a taste for thought-provoking literature will find it absorbing.

review by
Donna Scanlon

17 January 2009

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