Book review – “The Secret Scripture” by Sebastian Barry

This is the third book I listened to in Sebastian Barry’s McNulty family trilogy. The first was The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty, published in 1998, then I listened to The Temporary Gentleman, published in 2014, and then finally this book, which was published in 2008 and shortlisted for the then Man Booker Prize. I read them in the wrong order, but in doing so, arguably, I saved the best till last! The Secret Scripture is an astonishing and powerful piece of work, and provides answers to some of the unresolved questions raised in the other two books.

At the centre of the trilogy is the McNulty family and in particular the three brothers, Eneas, Tom and Jack. Eneas, as I have already posted about in my review of the first book in the trilogy, is something of a black sheep in that he is largely exiled from the family, in America, Africa and finally England, because of his job as a policeman which gets him into trouble with the republican Sligo underworld. The Temporary Gentleman concerns Jack, the golden child of the family, with a degree in engineering and a respectable marriage to the daughter of a doctor. However, this book reveals the lie about his life, hinted at in The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty, his alcoholism and gambling and the problems in his marriage. The third son, Tom, who becomes a local councillor, is married to Roseanne, who is the subject of The Secret Scripture and who appears in both the other novels. Having come to The Secret Scripture last I feel now that this trilogy is as much about Roseanne as it is about the McNulty family, because their relationships with her tell us almost more about them than their own lives.

When the book opens we meet Roseanne, a woman in her 90s, perhaps even 100, a long-term resident of a mental hospital that is about to be demolished. Her psychiatrist, Dr William Grene, must assess her and determine whether she is able to be discharged into the community. There is a recognition that many of the residents of such institutions were committed for social as much as mental health reasons. Dr Grene sets about trying to establish why Roseanne, who has been a patient at the hospital for around half a century, was admitted. The story is told from the parallel perspectives of Roseanne, who writes her own story in secret, and Dr Grene who records his notes and observations in a day book. These become a kind of confessional for both of them.

What we know about Roseanne is that she was very beautiful and therefore treated with suspicion, considered almost a temptation to sin, and therefore a sinner herself. To make matters worse, she is a Protestant. As a child she idolises her father and spends a great deal of time with him at his place of work – his job is as caretaker of a cemetery, a role he takes very seriously. However, after a tangle with local gangsters, active in the political strife that beset Ireland in the 1920s and 1930s, he is served the humiliation of losing his position and being redeployed as a rat-catcher. He maintains his dignity, however, and is conscientious, but the family’s fortunes decline thereafter. Roseanne’s mother is committed to an institution and her father dies. The local priest arranges a marriage to Tom McNulty, and he truly loves her, but she is never accepted by his parents, the elder Mrs McNulty in particular.

Roseanne is ill-treated by them all, except Eneas. After being spotted in a mis-judged but innocent meeting with another townsman on a mountain walk, she is exiled as an adulteress. This is largely an excuse for the family to be rid of her. Her marriage is annulled and she is forced to live in a hut outside the town. Tom marries again and it is as if Roseanne never existed. She is maintained at subsistence level, but no more. Her fate is sealed when she becomes pregnant and gives birth to a child alone on the strand with the tide coming in. She collapses unconscious after the delivery and awakes to find herself being taken away by ambulance, and no sign of her baby.

Events unfold rapidly in the final third of the book. Connections are made with Eneas and with Jack, and the family’s stories become knitted together. It is a slow build, however, up to this point. What the author is doing very skilfully, is building the picture of this woman, of her relationship with Dr Grene, who provides us with a perspective on her and the treatment she received at the hands of the McNulty family and the Sligo community more generally. Roseanne is a marginal figure in the other two books, but a figure, a mystery, nonetheless. The Secret Scripture gives us answers to questions the reader might have had whilst also exposing the dysfunctional relationship between religion and society that bedevils Ireland’s modern history.

A film adaptation of The Secret Scripture was released in 2016, starring Vanessa Redgrave and Rooney Mara, though the story differs in some important respects.

This novel has been Barry’s most successful to date, winning the Costa Book of the Year in 2008 (his novel Days Without End won in 2017, making him the first double-winner) and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize the same year. Apparently, however, some have found the ending of the book flawed and unpalatable. I disagree wholeheartedly! I do not wish to reveal any spoilers, so I will only say that I found it extraordinary. I can see how some might find it a plot twist too far, but from a reader’s perspective it is heart-stopping and I loved it.

I am on a real roll with Sebastian Barry at the moment; having only discovered his work in 2017 when I read Days Without End, I cannot now get enough of him – there is the Dunne Family trilogy to savour next.

The Secret Scripture is a brilliant and powerful book and I recommend it highly.

The Oscars 2022 – films based on books

The annual Oscars ceremony takes place this weekend – Sunday evening Los Angeles time, or the early hours of Monday morning BST. I will not be staying up to watch although it’s hard not to want to look at all the outfits on display on the red carpet! I am always curious about the fate of those films based on books, usually the ‘Best Adapted Screenplay’ category, although often a film that started out as a book makes it to the main ‘Best Picture’ category. This is especially the case this year, where four of the five nominees are also up for the big prize. There is only one big name book, however, in the ‘Best Adapted Screenplay’ category, and that is Dune, itself a remake of the 1984 film.

So here is my round-up of the ‘films based on books’ that have been nominated for awards this year.

Dune (based on the novel of the same name by Frank Herbert)

Herbert’s 1965 epic science fiction novel has become a classic of the genre. Set in some future time, society has regressed to a near-feudal set-up, where various factions control different regions and planets. A valuable commodity, ‘Spice’, is controlled by one family, but is necessary for all, not least to facilitate interstellar travel. Dealing with themes of religious factionalism, political intrigue as well as the environment, the parallels with the 20th/21st century world are obvious. The book is the first instalment of the Dune saga. A film was made by David Lynch in 1984 with mixed results (I had forgotten that it starred Sting). This 2021 version, with its stellar cast (including Timothee Chalemet, Zendaya, and Javier Bardem) and $165m budget, seems to have been more successful.

The Power of the Dog (based on a novel of the same name by Thomas Savage)

Thomas Savage wrote his novel in 1967 about two brothers, George and Phil Burbank, who take over the running of the family ranch in Montana. They have very different personalities, and ambitions and the tension between them reaches a climax when George brings home a wife and her teenage son. The novel gained greater attention when it was republished in 2001, Annie Proulx regarding it as a work of art. Director Jane Campion received a copy of the novel and decided to adapt it. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons and newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee.

Drive My Car (based on a short story of the same name by Haruki Murakami)

If Dune is based on the biggest book, Drive My Car is probably drawing on the biggest-name author, multi-award winning Haruki Murakami, writer of such classics as Norwegian Wood and 1Q84. This Japanese production is also up for ‘Best International Feature’ and, the big one, ‘Best Picture’. The film is a road-movie centred on a newly-widowed film director attempting to direct a production of Uncle Vanya in Hiroshima, while grappling with personal grief. It’s based on a short story from Marukami’s collection entitled Men Without Women.

The Lost Daughter (based on the novel of the same name by Elena Ferrante)

Another big name author, and one of my favourites, this psychological drama centres on the relationship between two women, a middle-aged academic, Leda (Olivia Colman) and a young mother, Nina (Dakota Johnson). The two women meet on a beach in Greece when Nina’s young daughter Elena, briefly goes missing and is found by Leda. The meeting causes Leda to reflect on her own struggles mothering her two daughters. This film also has an all-star cast; in addition to Colman and Johnson it includes Paul Mescal (of Normal People renown) and Jessie Buckley.

Of the above, I have seen only The Power of the Dog and The Lost Daughter, both of which are available on Netflix. I absolutely loved both! I’m not a huge fan of sci-fi so I probably won’t watch Dune, although my daughters both loved it (they are teenagers and big fans of Chalemet!) Drive My Car is most definitely on my To Be Watched list. They would all be on my TBR list, I think – I’d even challenge myself with Dune.

So, let’s see which one wins!

Book review – “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens

This book has been a phenomenal success since its publication in 2018 and has spent most of that time on various best-seller lists. A film is now in production starring Daisy Edgar-Jones (who played Marianne, to great acclaim, in the television adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People) and I am reliably informed by a young person that Taylor Swift has written a song for it! I approached it with some trepidation – I don’t normally go for best-sellers and I feared this might be over-hyped and overly sentimental. I could not have been more wrong and my book club decided this might be one of the best books we had ever read.

Delia Owens
Delia Owens is better known as a conservationist than an author. Crawdads was her debut novel, published when she was 69.

The novel covers events in the period 1952 to 1970 and the central character is Kya (short for Catherine) Clark, known to the local rural community of Barkley Cove as “the swamp girl”. The North Carolina setting of the novel is crucial because Kya becomes an integral part of it. And the setting is brilliantly and powerfully evoked by the author.

The novel is told on two timelines. It opens in 1969 with the discovery of a body in an old tower beside the swamp. The victim is Chase Andrews, a local man, the sporting pride of Barkley Cove, suave, confident and outgoing, he is married but has a reputation as something of a playboy. The local police begin their investigation. The novel then reverts to 1952 where six year-old Kya, the fifth and youngest child of a ‘swamp’ family (one which lives in a rundown house beside the swamp, where their income is precarious and their reputation as outsiders separates them from the mainstream Barkley Cove community) watches her fragile mother walking down the dirt track away from their home, leaving the family for good. Kya’s father is a feckless, violent drunk and Kya’s older siblings gradually leave the home too, unable to bear his aggressive dominance. This leaves Kya on her own with her father. At times they are able to live relatively agreeably together – he sometimes gives her money from his war pension (the family’s only income) and she is able to purchase supplies from the town – but mostly, he disappears, sometimes for days at a time, and Kya is forced to learn to fend for herself. Eventually he disappears altogether. Kya manages to evade the local authorities who try and get her to attend school; they give up eventually too. Kya grows up alone developing an intimate knowledge of the natural world of the swamp, living in harmony with it.

Kya avoids everyone in the town, she has learned to stay under the radar of both the authorities and the two gossips, to whom she is a mystery, to be treated with suspicion and disdain, but she makes three friends: Jumpin’, and his wife Mabel, the proprietor of the swamp-side general store where she must go to replenish her basic supplies, and childhood playmate Tate Walker. When the young child Kya starts to visit his store alone, Jumpin’ quickly realises that she is living alone and he and his wife support and protect her discreetly as best they can; as “coloreds” they are themselves marginalised. Tate Walker was friends with Kya from a very young age when they played together, and is well aware of her father’s violent tendencies. His mother died, a loss which binds them, and he lives alone with his father. When Kya’s father vanishes they renew their acquaintance and their relationship deepens. They eventually become “lovers” of a kind, though avoid intercourse. Tate receives the education Kya is denied and is ambitious to go to college and study natural science. He promises that he will visit Kya during the vacations, but on his first visit home he spots Kya from a distance on the beach near her hut and realises that she is almost a wild creature (that is indeed part of what he loves about her) and that she will never be able to fit into the new academic world he now inhabits. Tate leaves Kya without saying goodbye or explaining.

In her deep grief at being abandoned once again Kya falls into a relationship with Chase Andrews. He seduces her and the two begin a secret affair. Chase tells Kya that he will marry her, though he never introduces her to his family. On a visit to Barkley Cove Kya sees an announcement in the local newspaper that Chase is engaged to be married.

Kya’s progress, from small child learning to live by her wits to beautiful young woman living alone on the swamp, fending for herself, is told alongside the story of the police investigation into Chase Andrews’s murder. Inevitably, the twin stories collide when Kya is accused by Chase’s mother and charged with the murder. The account of the trial is told in gripping detail in a way that is reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird. No spoilers here, however, as it will have you on the edge of your seat!

I listened to this on audio and it was read brilliantly by Cassandra Campbell, the same actress who read Maggie Shipstead’s Great Circle so powerfully. If you’ve read the hype about this book then believe it! I cried several times throughout – there are so many big moments in it. The plotting is extremely clever. The characters are all strong, fully thought through and well-rounded. But what makes this book so brilliant, and what for me makes it great, is that it is just a cracking good story!

Highly recommended.

St Patrick’s Day

Happy St Patrick’s Day to all my Irish family, friends, acquaintances and fellow bloggers. Ireland is a country very close to my heart since my husband is from Dublin and my children are proudly half-Irish. I have spent very many happy times in Ireland in the last twenty-something years, and sadly not nearly enough time there in the last two.

I know that not every Irish person is a huge fan of ‘Paddy’s Day’ even though the diaspora celebrates it with great vigour. It’s true that the imagery associated with it can harden a false impression about the country and what it means to be Irish, that it’s all about the ‘craic’. Indeed it is not. Ireland and the Irish are thoughtful, deeply emotional, and phenomenally creative people. It’s not for nothing that the nation punches well above its weight internationally.

So, for my post today, in a celebration of all things Irish, I’m picking out a few of my favourite Irish books and authors.

Highlights from my recent reading:

Days Without End

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

This vivid and powerful account of an Irish emigrant participating in the Amercian Civil War and finding forbidden love is one of my all-time favourite books and began my love affair with the writing of Sebastian Barry.


Holding by Graham Norton

One of my favourite television and radio personalities, Graham Norton proved himself an accomplished author too with this his first novel, which has also now been adapted for television.

Grown Ups

Grown Ups by Marian Keyes

Marian Keyes might well have attained the status of “national treasure” in Ireland at this stage. This was the first book of hers that I read and I intend to read more. Loved it.

The Wonder

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

Donoghue hit the big time with her book Room, which was made into an Oscar-winning film starring Brie Larson, but for me The Wonder, published in 2016, is better. It explores the place of myth and its confused relationship with religion in Ireland. Powerful and beautiful.

The Glorious Heresies

The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney

Gangs, drugs, violence, love, this book has it all. Winner of the Baileys Prize (now the Women’s Prize) in 2016, it explores the dark underbelly of the city of Cork in a post-Celtic Tiger Ireland. Not an easy read, but beautifully and confidently written, with dark humour and love at its heart.

And now for some classics…

An education in literature in English would be incomplete without the above. Ulysses changed the world of fiction forever, perhaps even the world. Yeats, for me, evokes all that is Ireland and his life story is so emblematic. O’Casey’s play is a history lesson. Behan and Wilde are authors who embody some of our notions of human suffering.

So, today I will be raising a glass of Guinness to Ireland and in particular to its extraordinary literary heritage.


#KeepKidsReading – books out for children

In the last week I have shared a couple of book reviews of children’s books I have read recently. To close off this little series of #KeepKidsReading posts I would like to share some of the children’s books that are either out now or just about to come out and which I really like the look of. Capitalise now on all that ‘World Book Day’ enthusiasm!

Middle-grade books (primary school age/early secondary school)

Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow and The Secret Sunshine Project by Benjamin Dean

The first of these two books sits on my current TBR pile. It’s Benjamin Dean’s debut novel and is the story of Archie Albright who decides to try and ‘fix’ his family and restore their lives to normal after his parents split up. Archie’s father has come out and Archie must learn to come to terms with the ‘new normal’. Looks like a great one for children of same-sex parents, blended families, or separating families. Look out for a future review.

Benjamin Dean does not shy away from challenging themes in his second novel either, it would seem. In The Secret Sunshine Project he deals with the loss of a parent, resilience, sisterly love and the joy of Pride.

The Last Bear and The Lost Whale by Hannah Gold

Another double recommendation, this time two books which deal with important themes of the connection between humans and nature and climate change. The Last Bear was a huge success and widely acclaimed. April’s father is a scientist and his research takes the family to a remote Arctic island where it is said polar bears are now extinct. April comes across one however, starving and desperate, and she is determined to save him.

In The Lost Whale Rio goes on a quest to find a whale he has met on whale-watching trips with his best friend Marina and her father. He has been sent to live with his grandmother in California while his mother recuperates from illness. The children discover the whale but are then distressed when it goes missing. Rio will learn much about his life and the world in his search for the whale.

All of the above titles have wonderful illustrations which I think remain important for this age group.

The Swallow’s Flight by Hilary McKay

Finally, a sadly very topical suggestion. This is a story about the second world war written from the perspective of four children, two in England and two in Berlin. They are all contemplating their future as their countries pursue a war that none of them want or fully understand. A few adults could do with reading this as a reminder of what the senselessness of war looks like through the eyes of a young person.

Teens and younger adults

This is a broad category and some titles deal with mature themes that even very good readers may find challenging so choose your books with care.

You’re Not the Boss of Me by Catherine Wilkins

This title made me laugh as it is an exclamation that one of my children directed at me once! This book may help young teens navigate the thorny topic of sexism. Amy is all set to the be the star of the school show until Harry is put in charge and seems determined to stand in her way. Amy’s sister tells her Harry is being a sexist and she must take a stand. Written with humour by a popular comedian.

Furthermoor by Darren Simpson

Fantasy for young teens. Twelve year-old Bren finds solace from the challenges of his life, where his sister has died and he is constantly bullied, in the imaginary world of Furthermoor where he feels safe and can control events. When the mysterious Featherly enters this world, Bren is forced to choose between fantasy and reality.

Baby Love by Jacqueline Wilson

Another characteristically bold fictional outing from national treasure Jacqueline Wilson. This time she deals with first love and teenage pregnancy in the 1960s when Laura, finding herself pregnant and alone, is sent away to spare her family’s shame.

Blood to Poison by Mary Watson

This looks like a complex and powerful novel. Set in South Africa, its central character is seventeen year-old Savannah who has been identified as a ‘Hella’s girl’, the inheritor of a tradition in her ancient family bloodline where certain young women will die young. This is a story about magic, witchcraft and the courage to defy one’s destiny.

For more suggestions, see the shortlist for this year’s Waterstones Children’s Book Prize.

#International Women’s Day

9 amazing books for this very special day.

Chimamanda Ngoze Adichie – We Should All Be Feminists

Naomi Alderman – The Power

Maya Angelou – I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Clarissa Pinkola Estes – Women Who Run with Wolves

Bernardine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other

Fiona Mozley – Hot Stew

Michelle Obama – Becoming

Lola Shoneyin – The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives

Tara Westover – Educated

#KeepKidsReading book review – “Pog” by Pádraig Kenny

Time for my second book review of my #KeepKidsReading week and I would like to tell you about Pog, the second novel from children’s author Pádraig Kenny, published in 2019 by Chicken House. It bears similarities to Kenny’s first novel for children Tin, which I loved, with powerful elements of fantasy, a fight between good and evil, and strong characters which young readers will be able to identify with. 

Pog is the name of a furry talking creature who lives in the attic of an old house in the woods. David and Penny and their father move into the house after the death of the children’s mother in an accident; the house had belonged to her grandparents and she spent a lot of time there as a child. The children’s father has brought them to live there as a way of perhaps reconnecting with the mother they have lost.

Pog seems like quite an ancient creature whose role is as something of a protector, not just of the inhabitants of the house, but as guard of ‘the Necessary’, an access point between the civillised world and the dark underworld, out of which destructive and terrifying forces can emerge. Pog has also known loss and tells of his ‘Grandfa’ who went before him and from whom he seems to have inherited his present responsibilities.

David and Penny discover Pog’s existence soon after moving into the house, and quickly become his friends and allies. It soon becomes apparent that creatures from the underworld are threatening the stability of Penny and David’s world. In one battle that takes place in the sitting room of the house, Pog and the children confront a swarm of ‘bloodworms’ that attack and attempt to destroy them. They win that particular fight.


This is merely a foretaste of what it is to come, however. In a moment of desperation, David makes a deal with the wicked ‘Kipwik’, who promises that he will be able to see his mother again if he opens the Necessary. This is a lie of course, but David is more grief-stricken than he realised and will do anything. A monumental confrontation follows, a straight fight between good and evil, in which Pog comes close to losing his life. Goodness prevails in the end, however, and in a kind of catharsis both Pog and the children begin the process of coming to terms with loss. They have faced down the cruellest of demons.

I enjoyed the book, although I did not think it was as strong as Kenny’s first novel Tin. The characterisation is good and the action scenes are well-written. The character of Pog is sweet but may turn off some readers who see themselves as too old for talking animals. I don’t think Kenny pulls this off quite as successfully as, say, Philip Pullman. On the other hand, some of the themes (death of a parent, good versus evil) may be too intense for some young readers. I would say this is suitable for the 8-12 age group, with the caveat that they need to be mature enough to deal with the themes, but young enough to embrace the concept of talking creatures.

Pádraig Kenny published a third novel last year, The Monsters of Rookhaven, in which he explores the themes of good versus evil once again. It has been been widely acclaimed and both nominated for and won numerous literary awards.

#KeepKidsReading Book review – “Julia and the Shark” by Kiran Millwood Hargrave with Tom de Freston

Today is the 25th annual World Book Day so it seems a very apt moment to have another #KeepKidsReading week – an occasional series where I post reviews about children’s books. My days of creating World Book Day outfits for my primary school age children are long-gone, though it seems like only five minutes ago, and although at the time it felt like a huge pressure to come up with ideas and then scour charity shops for suitable garments, I genuinely think it is a brilliant concept and any initiative that gives out vouchers for children to get a free book, MUST be a force for good.

I’d like to tell you about Julia and the Shark. This book was heavily promoted in my local branch of Waterstones and I’m afraid I couldn’t resist the ‘Signed Exclusive Edition’ sticker and the attractive design. It is a beautiful thing: hardbacked, the cover is in tasteful shades of grey and bright yellow with shiny silver relief. Inside, the grey/yellow/silver theme continues, as do the illustrations of flying birds which decorate the edges of the pages almost zoetrope style. The images, brilliantly done by Tom de Freston, are stunning and a few of them are on opaque pages scattered throughout the book. In terms of design, the book, in my view, follows a trend set by books like The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse a couple of years ago, or even Quentin Blake’s illustrations for Roald Dahl, where the pictures are an integral part of the experience for the reader and convey something important about character or the state of their mind.

But what of the story? The central character is ten year old Julia, the only child of a mathematician father and a marine biologist mother. The story begins with the family moving from their home in south west England to Shetland, in the very northern isles of Scotland, for the summer. Julia’s father has been commissioned to convert a lighthouse, once operated manually, to an automatic system. The family will live in the building for the duration of the project (a few months) and Julia’s mother will pursue an interest of her own, which is to discover the whereabouts of a rarely seen marine creature, the Greenland shark. She is attempting to get funding for a research project to study the shark and learn about its long, slow life in the hope that it can help in the pursuit of a treatment for degenerative dementia, a condition which killed Julia’s grandmother.

Julia has mixed feelings about the trip; she is unhappy about being away from her friends for the summer, but, buoyed by her mother’s enthusiasm and excitement about her own project, she comes around. Julia and her mother get to know a few people in the local village and Julia makes friends with a boy, Kin, whose family owns the local launderette, out of which they also run a small library. Julia and Kin share a love of nature, she for the sea (a passion passed on by her mother) and he for the stars. Julia quickly becomes initiated into some of the problems that dog Kin’s life, most notably, that he is a victim of racist bullying from some of the local lads.

The Greenland shark can live for hundreds of years –


Julia becomes increasingly worried about her mother. At first, her mother’s spontaneous and outgoing behaviour is presented as a foil to her father’s logical, sensible character, and it is clear which behaviour Julia prefers! However, the behaviour becomes more and more reckless and bizarre; it starts when Julia’s mother purchases an expensive camera she does not really need and the family can ill afford. It peaks when she buys a run-down boat to go on solo expeditions in search of the shark when it becomes clear that the failure of her funding applications means she can no longer go aboard another working vessel as a paying guest. The boat and the solo expeditions prove both hazardous and fruitless.

Events come to a head when Julia’s mother has a breakdown. The nature of the emergency means that Julia is left in the care of a local shop owner the family has befriended, but she escapes during the night. She learns that there has been a sighting of the Greenland shark and Julia decides she will take her mother’s boat out to search for it. This proves highly dangerous and almost costs Julia her life when she sails into a storm that overturns the boat.

It is very tense at the end because it is not clear if either Julia or her mother will survive. The only indication that Julia does is a paragraph in the opening pages where Julia, who is the book’s narrator, tells us:

“This is the story of the summer I lost my mum, and found a shark older than the trees. Don’t worry though, that doesn’t spoil the ending.”


I was worried when I read this – a book where a young girl loses her mother! But rest assured, the mother does not die. She almost dies when she takes too many pills, and is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but there is a happy resolution and Julia is saved from the waves.

This is quite a challenging book. It does deal with death (Julia’s grandmother’s death is referenced throughout), mental illness, bullying, difficult parents (not just Julia’s but it also turns out that the boy who had been bullying Kin had been abandoned by both his mother and father), and less seismic but equally impactful issues for kids like moving home, being an only child, friendship, and dealing with failure and disappointment.

This is a book that will suit quite a wide range of children between 9 and 13 – younger, stronger readers who are also quite emotionally mature will get a lot out of it, as will older kids who may identify strongly with the issues but perhaps need the pictures to keep them engaged. I loved Julia as the narrator, who was able to present complex issues in easy to understand ways. And it is a very compelling story with elements of adventure too. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It would also be a beautiful book to give as a gift. My only concern with it is that the design has made it quite pricey; at £12.99 this will be out of reach of many parents and children. I hope to see it in libraries.

Highly recommended.

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