I'm the one who's left behind. I'm the one to tell the tale. I knew them both... knew how they lived and how they died.
Illustrated by Karen Radford
Published by Hodder Children’s Books in October 2014
272 pages in hardback.
Summary from Publishers’ website
Claire is Ella Grey's best friend. She's there when the whirlwind arrives on the scene: catapulted into a North East landscape of gutted shipyards; of high arched bridges and ancient collapsed mines. She witnesses a love so dramatic it is as if her best friend has been captured and taken from her. But the loss of her friend to the arms of Orpheus is nothing compared to the loss she feels when Ella is taken from the world. This is her story - as she bears witness to a love so complete; so sure, that not even death can prove final.
This book is truly lyrical.
It sings with the language of David Almond’s native North East in both its simplicity and beauty. It’s not hard to read, though. There’s none of the phonetic spelling of ‘The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean’- in this story he uses the rhythms and cadences of Northumberland in a direct and musical way. I should love to hear an audio version with Kathryn Tickell [Northumbrian piper] reading it – or perhaps a younger local lass. I can imagine Freya, David Almond’s daughter, doing a lovely job of it.
The prose is deceptively simple. Any reasonably confident reader could tackle it from secondary school upwards. A particular pleasure is the portrayal of love and sexuality as both fluid and joyous. There’s no shock horror prurience here.
The experimentation seems less obvious than in ‘My Name is Mina’ – though there are black pages with white text, for example. I have only read the Net Galley proof but I have seen some unusual layouts designed to make you pause and consider what is said. It all adds to the poetry.
From what I have seen online, Karen Radford’s illustrations complement the text beautifully. The spareness combined with delicacy suit the tone, and bring out both the universality and the local detail of this re-telling of the Orpheus myth.
It is a story ideal for Teens, Young Adults or whatever the current marketing bracket is for adolescents. This does not rule it out for the adult reader. The mix of contemporary and mythical conveys that period of ‘becoming’ vividly. Not just that exploring who you might be – which though often joyful is not a dollop of sentimental nostalgia – but also love and creativity in the face of Death.
I would highly recommend this magical tale for older readers longing to understand how the arts make any sense when someone you treasure dies.