Friday, August 1, 2008

Skellig: A Book Review

Title: Skellig
Author: David Almond
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 182 pages
Publisher: Laurel Leaf (September 11, 2001)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0440229081
ISBN-13: 978-0440229087

Skellig has a distinctive British feel to it but it is not confusing to American readers. Author, David Almond, never defines who Skellig really is other than in the context of a fantasy character. The short chapters make the story move smoothly forward and entice the reader to want more.

Michael, his baby sister and his parents move into what the real estate agent calls a fixer upper but Michael sees it for what it is. A horrible dump where the floor is full of cracks and holes. The old rickety abandoned shed out in the yard is another eyesore and Michael is warned to stay out. Of course as soon as you tell a teenager don’t go in there, what do you think he or she will do? Michael never imagines he will see anything other than junk and a mouse or two. When he steps into the dusty structure his first look at Skellig is astonishing. Michael thinks he may never see him again or if he is even real.

“He was lying there in the darkness behind the tea chests, in the dust and dirt. It was as if he’d been there forever. He was filthy and pale and dried out and I thought he was dead. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I’d soon begin to see the truth about him, that there’d never been another creature like him in the world.”

Skellig is neither pure fantasy nor realistic fiction but rather a blend of both. Michael soon meets his home-schooled neighbor, Mina who has a passion for William Blake’s poetry, a vast knowledge of birds and a low opinion of public schools. Mina and Michael become close friends and Michael shares his secret about Skellig with her. Together they mend Skellig’s weakening body and move him to a secret hiding place away from danger of being discovered. During the move Michael brushes his hands across Skellig’s back and feels what appears to be a pair of wings.

The mysterious connection between Skellig, Michael, his sister and Mina is expertly woven by Almond’s magical and poignant prose. The story line hovers between life and death for Michael’s sister and Skellig’s own failing health. Everything about Skellig is up to interpretation by the reader. However, there is a tension of magnetism about Skellig that draws the reader into the individual qualities of nature versus nurture. Michael’s father and mother nurture their critically ill daughter, Michael nurtures Skellig and Mina nurtures the little birds and owls in the empty house her grandfather left her.

The book is written for an audience of eight to twelve year olds but I believe many adults will enjoy this story because it shows the value of friendship, family unity, trust and love.

Write it down,