Book review

Heaven Eyes by David Almond (2000)

David Almond will lead you into black dream-like places, but he will always bring you back again, reflecting on the pure magic of just being alive.

So it is with this book. Erin Law and her friends January Carr and Mouse Gullane are 'damaged' children, that is, they have lost their families and consequently they have lost part of themselves. For ever on the look out for the missing pieces and hanging on to the pieces they still have, they pass their time in a children's home where they plan their regular escapes.

This time they launch themselves off on a wildly bobbing and lurching raft which doesn't take them very far in distance but which deposits them on the sucking mud of the Black Middens which may as well be in another world. They encounter Grampa and Heaven Eyes who live a strangely ordered life in a derelict printing works on the river edge, avoiding all human contact. Heaven eyes is the strangest girl you are ever likely to meet. She has webbed fingers and speaks a confused, half-language. Who, exactly, is she? Grampa knows, but he's in no state to tell.

There's a lot of digging about in black slime in this story which surely symbolizes the children's search for the bits and pieces of their lives and what is really touching is how gently they collect and keep the pieces of Heaven Eyes's life for her to have when she is ready.

There's magic as well. Did Mouse find a saint in the slime? How did Grampa know there were saints in the slime? Did the saint come for Grampa? If it isn't a saint, what is it? Is it just the body of a drowned dock-side worker from many years ago? Did the children's imaginations run riot in the black night holding vigil over their dead?

This story is told by Erin herself and I was with her all the way as she roughly pushes aside the clueless social worker and conjures up her own mother for support in the worst moments. Both heart-stopping and soothing at the same time, I love the way David Almond writes.

What can I read next?

If you haven't already read them, try these:

I recommend this one by Jonathan Stroud for its strange haunting quality:

Possibly for slightly younger readers, Alan Temperley has written an excellent story where fantasy meets reality:

If you are an older reader, you could have a look at this terrifying one by Mervyn Peake:

Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:

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