Book review

Bird Boy by Alison Prince (2000)

There is a ghost in this book, but it is the people who are really scary. And I suppose that is what you would expect because the ghost is the ancient victim who cannot rest, and longs for someone to come along who can help him to right the great wrong that was done to him:

Look, look, the boy has come at last. Conan, the boy with my name. Only nobody called me by my name. They know me as Crow. Crow. Crow. The Bird Boy.

Conan Bardini-Smith has a colourful name and a colourful family - his mother is Italian and his father Australian. But it is the Italian side which resonates through the generations when he and his parents move to a dilapidated Suffolk mansion house. Wilderness Hall, it seems, is the place where his great grand-mother's sister came to after she eloped with an Englishman when she was just sixteen. She did not live happily ever after though. Her new husband died, she committed suicide and their sickly son disappeared. So, there is plenty for Conan to find out about, if he has a mind to.

As it happens, it isn't really left to Conan to decide whether he wants to know what went on all those years ago - he begins to hear a clear and undeniable voice inside his head.

I never sleep, Conan. Not now. But I remember it. I used to wake with my nightshirt twisted round me like the jesses that tie the legs of the captive hawk, hot in the heavy bedclothes while the nightingale sang of freedom. I could never make the sound of human words, Conan. They said I was mad. But neither could I sing as the birds do, only clatter and croak like a crow.
What happened? Con asked with his heart thudding. Tell me.

Conan Bardini-Smith is communicating with the boy, Conan Fothergill, who disappeared abruptly so long ago. And the inquisitive crow, with the startling blue eyes, who dwells in the grounds of Wilderness Hall, seems to be the physical manifestation of Conan Fothergill.

But even with a crow on his side, Conan Bardini-Smith is up against a lot of local resistance. Descendants of those who played a part in the original events still live in the village and also have an interest in the future of Wilderness Hall.

Read the book to see how Conan discovers the appalling crime that was perpetrated against Conan Fothergill, and how he and his family become accepted as the new occupants of Wilderness Hall.

I enjoyed this book enormously. It is full of suspense and the climax in the stable-loft is really frightening. You might feel that the crow is a very convenient and knowing sort of ghost, but that would just be a personal opinion about what a 'proper' ghost ought to be like - don't let it spoil your enjoyment of this story.

What can I read next?

If you enjoy this book and would like to find something similar, try this one by Jan Mark:

Or, for something a bit spookier, have a look at these by David Almond:

You might like this one by Michael Morpurgo:

And possibly this one by Louis Sachar:

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

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