David Almond,
Skellig
(Delacorte, 1999)

David Almond has several novels for adults to his name in the United Kingdom, but Skellig is his first book for younger readers. Unlike many authors who make such a transition, Almond understands that telling a good story well is the first rule of writing no matter who your audience is.

Michael and his parents and baby sister have just moved into a crumbling "fixer-upper," which might have been more exciting were his sister not seriously ill. Left to his own devices, he explores the dilapidated garage and makes a startling discovery.

It looks like a filthy, bedraggled vagrant at first, but Michael quickly learns that this being is more than human. He calls himself Skellig, and he is part man, part angel or bird or both, and wholly remarkable.

Michael's new friend Mina, a smart and eccentric home-schooled girl, helps him hide and protect Skellig. Meanwhile, Michael's excited happiness with Skellig is blunted by the tension produced when his sister goes into the hospital. But the encounters with Skellig help both Michael and Mina and, by extension, Michael's family.

There is a certain degree of mystery in the story; Almond never specifically explains Skellig, but neither must he do so. It is enough that Skellig simply is. Almond writes with a rare and magical sense of wonder, and the reader can't help but feel its influence. He crafts his characters with care; they are unique and appealing and engage the reader's sympathies.

In an author's note at the end, Almond writes: "Writing can be difficult, but sometimes it really does feel like a kind of magic. I think that stories are living things -- among the most important things in the world." With Skellig, Almond demonstrates that he more than practices what he preaches.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]



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