“It’s there the night we go to visit Grandma.
Lying in the crypt at the back of the old church.
Cover art by Frances Castle and Nicola Theobold
Published in 2015 by Quercus
297 pages in hardback
Summary from Mike Revell’s own website
When eleven-year-old Liam moves house to be closer to his grandma, he’s thrown into an unfamiliar place, with a family that seems to be falling apart.
Liam doesn’t remember what Grandma was like before she became ill with dementia. He only knows the witch-like old woman who snaps and snarls and eats her birthday cards. He desperately wants to make everything better, but he can’t.
Escaping the house one evening, Liam discovers an old stone gargoyle in a rundown church, and his life changes in impossible ways.
The gargoyle is alive. It moves unseen in the night, acting out Liam’s stories. And stories can be dangerous things…
But Liam’s grandma’s illness is getting worse, his mum isn’t coping, and his sister is skipping school.
What if the gargoyle is the only thing that can save Liam’s family?
I do rather have a passion for gargoyles, so I was immediately attracted to this lovely cover. I have rarely seen artwork more suited to the book inside than this. (You can see how it evolved on Frances Castle’s blog.) The story is told by Liam, the boy with the dog in the picture, and that splendid gargoyle does indeed play a huge part.
Mike Revell has recreated a modern world that won’t date in months, in the way that David Almond did in ‘Skellig’. ‘Stonebird’ has much of that same meeting of magic with a family drama. It is scary at times, and deals with dark subjects like bullying and dementia. But the accessible writing in this compassionate tale makes it suitable for a wide age-range. I would include adults in that, especially anyone going through a similar situation.
Although intended for a younger readership, the importance of creativity through language in it also made me think of Sarah Crossan’s ‘Apple & Rain’. There are flashes of the poetic but they don’t weight the story down. It leaves you with a sense of hope in spite of bewildering changes: something of the warmth of Frank Cottrell Boyce, but with a voice of its own. An impressive debut.