by David Almond [j Almond]
It's been a long time since I have read a book as unique in plot and style as Kit's Wilderness by David Almond. The story is set in an old mining town, where many stories abound about those who were trapped during cave-ins and other disasters. The theme revolves around memories, those which Kit is told by his grandfather, and those which help Kit's grandfather hold onto the present in his old age. Kit's Wilderness is a beautifully-woven tale which deservedly won the Michael Printz award for literary excellence. Kit's Wilderness is hard to classify, beyond calling it realistic fiction. Kit and his family have recently moved to the neighborhood to care for Kit's grandfather. Kit is troubled only in the sense that many of us are, in that he's haunted by the changes happening to someone he loves. Kit and his grandfather share a bond through stories. His grandfather tells him ones of the old mining town and Kit then writes them down and shares them at school. Through these stories, Kit earns admiration from both his teachers and his peers. One of those is Askew, who invites him to play his game of Death because the two can see into the spiritual world. When taking his turn in the abandoned den, Kit begins to see faces of those from the olden days. Another of these is Allie, who calls herself a bad kid but it's really more of a role than reality, as she reveals in her explanation about why she likes the theater: "Who's Allie Keenan? This almost-nice one or this truly bad one? It's like magic. I don't have to be me." Almond connects the mystical element to the theme of memories, because eventually Kit's grandfather must learn to sort through his past and his present (and figure out which is which) to stay grounded in reality. As part of this process, Kit's grandfather also has his own glimpses of the dead. In an interview with Teaching Books, Almond admits that when writing Kit's Wilderness he felt perhaps it was a bit too dark to write and maybe a bit too difficult for young readers. Indeed, death is an intense subject, but Almond masterfully handles it with many overlapping subplots involving Kit, Askew, and Kit's grandfather. Almond's reflective style hails back to the old classics, which means the writing may require a greater time commitment from readers. I am certain a reread of Kit's Wilderness is in my future, as I suspect it will feel richer each time it's read. -- review submitted by Allison H.-F. - a customer of the Bennett Martin Public Library
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