Liam Lynch’s father, a famous fiction writer, has often said that “the real world is the very very strangest of places.” Liam was out wandering with his friend Max when they found an abandoned baby girl with a scribbled note attached to her blanket: “PLESE LOOK AFTER HER RITE. THIS IS A CHILDE OF GOD.” Next to her was a jam jar filled with notes and coins. Mr. Lynch has always told Liam to “Live an adventure. Live like you’re in a story.” And now Liam does—in a story of wandering children, a strange baby, a message and a treasure. The story broadens to include a war refugee from Liberia, the local bully and a teenage girl who survived a fire in which her family perished.
Raven Summer is David Almond’s darkest novel yet, evolving from characters and themes in his previous works, with unsettling undertones of Lord of the Flies and Heart of Darkness. There is a narrative arc in Almond’s body of work, pointing the way to this beautiful and poetic look at the dark side of human nature. Almond’s Skellig was all about mystery and the feeling that “the world’s full of amazing things.” In Kit’s Wilderness, the theme of darkness and light is developed, reflected in Grandpa’s statement, “This is our world. Aye, there’s more than enough of darkness in it. But over everything there’s all this joy, too, Kit. There’s all this lovely, lovely light.”
Raven Summer shares with The Fire-Eaters a cast of characters trying to live in a world in the face of war. In Clay, a monster is created to get back at the local bully; in Raven Summer, we are the monsters, each of us capable of the “darkness at the heart of the world.” This is a Brothers Grimm mindscape of fairy babies and fairy gold; witches and monsters, foundlings and angels; ancient border raids and modern war; snake pits and caves, ravens and wanderers.
Still, what remains after this dark tale is an angel baby, an ordinary family and their familiar garden—a well-lighted home in a dangerous world. Almond is one of the finest writers in the world of children’s literature, a writer of uncommon vision and elegant prose, fully capable of plumbing the heart of darkness and the “lovely, lovely light” as well.
Dean Schneider teaches middle school English in Nashville.