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The International Writers Magazine: Review

Jackdaw Summer by David Almond
Hodder Childrens Books
ISBN 978-0-340-88198-9
Michael Webb

Jackdaw Summer is the story of a boy named Liam who lives in Northumberland. Liam and his friend Max are lead by a jackdaw to the aid of a helpless baby girl. The mystery of this baby girl makes big news…for a while. As the nation loses interest in the story the girl is put into foster care and Liam and his family go to visit her. Liam meets two very interesting foster children living in the same house, with big stories to tell…and all of a sudden, a large cloud of fate looms over Liams head.

One thing kept leaping to mind when I read this book: accessible. Almond ( the winner of the Whitbread Children's Book Award and the Carnegie Medal) comes an extraordinary new novel ... manages to create a convincing set of characters and environment whilst using mostly very simple (but extremely affective) Language. I believe this book transcends the child/adult barrier with great skill. An important part of this transcendence are the themes in which Almond explores. As soon as I finished reading this book I wanted to pitch up a tent in my back garden and sleep rough. A wonderful sense of nostalgia is achieved for all those adults amongst us. As for the children that read this, most of them are still living it now. Throughout the book our protagonist Liam is wild, daring and everything a child should be. He brings us all closer to that exciting childhood we once had. Liams curiosity and wild nature finds him following a jackdaw whereupon he discovers an abandoned baby. Whilst the baby appears to play no major role, Liams decision to take this baby back to his father is the catalyst for the rest of his summer. Once the baby girl is successfully sent to a foster home, Liam and his parents go to visit her. On visiting the baby’s new home, Liam meets a couple of characters that will completely change his summer.

A wild but troubled girl named Crystal questions certain things in her life that Liam hadn’t really thought about yet. With a few of the realizations that Liam comes to, you see some of his childhood slip away right in front of your eyes. A childhood not filled solely with amazing adventures out in the wild. But a childhood that you feel has an undertone of sadness to it. Liams father is a famous writer who is always writing a new story and has very little to do with his son. Almost everyone can sympathize with feeling unloved at some point by their parents; adults and children alike have this unfortunate grievance.

Another important character to this story is Oliver; he is the second of the two foster children Liam meets. Oliver is from Liberia, a country ravaged by war. Olivers entire family were killed but he was spared and forced to join the soldiers at the age of ten. I raise the important point of Olivers background because it coincides with a very vital theme in this book…. war.

War is suggested consistently throughout this book, whether it is world war three or a bloody fight between friends. It is suggested that war is necessary, horrid and yet somehow beautiful. In this book war is celebrated as an art but also condemned by the masses. Perhaps this portrays Almond's own views, or perhaps he is simply trying to get his readers to think. As a reviewer I dare not plunge into the inner psyche of Almond but I will congratulate him on making these conflicting views on war work in harmony.

In conclusion, Jackdaw Summer is a very successfully written book with many themes that adults and children alike can relate to. More importantly it is about that summer in everyones life that changes you. That makes you into the adult you will become.

© michael phillip webb November 2008

Michael is studying Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth

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