Mrs. Scullery, Mina McKee’s teacher at St. Bede’s Middle School, tells her students that writers never write anything until everything is planned out carefully. “What nonsense!” thinks Mina. “Why should a book tell a tale in a dull straight line?” Her own story, related in her journal, reflects the clutter and wonder of a mind trying to make sense of her loneliness after the death of her father, her treatment as a somewhat loony outsider at school, and her earnest hope for a friend or two, perhaps in the boy moving into Ernie Myers’ old house down the road. Her mind “is a clutter and a mess,” and the stories, reflections, questions, quotations, poems and creative writing activities are written in a variety of font sizes and shapes, adding visual appeal and making the novel look just like a young girl’s messy notebook full of tentative observations about her world.

In this prequel to his 1998 Carnegie Medal-winning novel Skellig, David Almond’s My Name Is Mina continues the themes and ideas of its predecessor and, indeed, of many of Almond’s novels: the mystery and beauty of the world, why Mina’s father died, the creation of creatures out of clay, the pitmen digging coal in the depths of the Earth, and the horror and wonder of the world. In fact, readers new to Almond’s work may be intrigued enough to go on to Skellig, Heaven Eyes, Kit’s Wilderness, Clay and The Fire-Eaters to discover the full range of his philosophical concerns. He is one writer who, in simple and poetic prose, manages to suffuse characters’ worlds with rich and perceptive insights into the human condition.

Mina’s world is a grand landscape of ordinary people, heroes and monsters, where Daedalus, the Minotaur, Persephone and Pluto, Orpheus and Icarus are as real as the old lady next door. Mina wishes she could journey to the Underworld like Orpheus and bring back her father, or make an owl-leap into the skies like Icarus and fly like the birds she observes from her perch in a tree. Mina lives an ordinary life, yet it’s the stuff of the gods.

Mina’s journey via her journal becomes the readers’ journey, leading them right to the beginning of Skellig, when Mina meets a boy named Michael.

Dean Schneider teaches seventh- and eighth-grade English at the Ensworth School in Nashville.

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