Thursday, October 16, 2008

David Almond titles: The Savage & Skellig

David Almond writes books unlike anyone else, and for that reason alone you should gobble up everything you can by him.

You can start with his latest book, The Savage, which has everything that's great about Almond, plus illustrations (comics-within-the-novel?) by the phenomenal Dave McKean.

I'm telling you, don't waste your time on my prose, go get some Almond now! But, if you want more reasons why, join me after the jump.

I first discovered David Almond on a road trip to see him up in Cincinnati, Ohio back ten years or so ago when he was nominated for the Michael L. Printz award for his first book, Skellig (and that first year was an amazing one for the Printz award, and YA in general: Skellig, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, and Ellen Wittlinger's Hard Love all lost to Walter Dean Myers Monster. Not until the one-two punch of 2006 and 2007 has there been as good a lineup). Librarians and kidslit booksellers from the region (I was working in a bookstore in Louisville, Kentucky at the time) had been invited by the publisher to come to a swanky dinner with him at the Ruth's Chris Steakhouse as a celebration--and, of course, to promote Mr. Almond, a first-time British author, and the award, that being its first year.

Skellig is great, and, while I can lay out the plot for you, it simply doesn't do justice to the murky, head-swirling wonder of Almond's language and mood. Skellig is the story of Michael, a kid whose family has just moved into a dilapidated old house. Michael, friendless, angry, and scared for his baby sister's health, takes to exploring around the house, including the broken down garage, where he finds Skellig, a creepy, dessicated man with wings. Is Skellig an angel? Is he even real? And what is the connection between this man or creature and Michael's sister?

Okay, what I wrote sounds more like cover copy than a description of a book, but that's because this book, like all of David Almond's work, raises questions, causes you to ponder the connections between what is real and what is imagination, and is that even worth distinguishing between? So, just--David Almond = awesomeness.

Anyways, I finished Skellig hours before the road trip: me and two elderly booksellers who knew their kidslit, and were usually spot on when finding good books (they were the first ones to tell me about Harry Potter, and that was pre-HP1 publication over here). I loved the book, it excited me like no other book published that year (except maybe Speak, but that would come a month or so later). But the car ride turned uncomfortable when I tried to talk to the Marthas about it (they were both named Martha).

They said it was beautifully written, but it was "so dark!" They had this stern look of concern that surprised me--a look that said they were afraid for any youth that might read it. At first, during that car ride, after meeting the author, after talking with him and librarians and other booksellers that night (most of whom had a slight edge of reservation when discussing the book out of earshot of Mr. Almond)--right then, I didn't get it. What was there to fear?

But later, after reading more of Almond's work, I realized they were right, and that is exactly why David Almond is unique, and incredible, and gets at the experience of growing up unlike any other author I can think of.

Why? Well, over the next few days I hope to blog about his whole catalog just to get at the answer. Meanwhile, go get The Savage. I'll wait.


Anonymous said...

David Almond is perhaps my favorite writer. I know Skellig gets lots of attention but I'm a huge, huge fan of Clay and Kit's Wilderness (which I consider to be the most technically perfect novel I know).

Justin Colussy-Estes said...

Come back when I discuss both those books--I actually think Skellig is atypical for David Almond in many ways, and I hope to get into that. Also, I'm excited to talk about Kit's Wilderness, which has one of the most incredible opening chapters ever...

spadamchrist said...

It’s a wonderful children's book, and I’ve read it two or three times. I’m reading it to my son at the moment and he seems to be loving it as much as I do. It’s realistic, but fantastical, harsh but tender. David Almond’s writing is powerful. Not one word is redundant. The character of Skellig is so different from any other I’ve encountered. He’s so mysterious.