Skellig (Almond)

Book Reviews
Skellig is the first mainstream Gothic novel for kids to deal unblinkingly with the genre's big time themes, including the fragility of life and redemptive power of love.
USA Today

British novelist Almond makes a triumphant debut in the field of children's literature with prose that is at once eerie, magical and poignant. Broken down into 46 succinct, eloquent chapters, the story begins in medias res with narrator Michael recounting his discovery of a mysterious stranger living in an old shed on the rundown property the boy's family has just purchased: "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.... I'd soon begin to see the truth about him, that there'd never been another creature like him in the world." With that first description of Skellig, the author creates a tantalizing tension between the dank and dusty here-and-now and an aura of other-worldliness that permeates the rest of the novel. The magnetism of Skellig's ethereal world grows markedly stronger when Michael, brushing his hand across Skellig's back, detects what appears to be a pair of wings. Soon after Michael's discovery in the shed, he meets his new neighbor, Mina, a home-schooled girl with a passion for William Blake's poetry and an imagination as large as her vast knowledge of birds. Unable to take his mind off Skellig, Michael is temporarily distracted from other pressing concerns about his new surroundings, his gravely ill baby sister and his parents. Determined to nurse Skellig back to health, Michael enlists Mina's help. Besides providing Skellig with more comfortable accommodations and nourishing food, the two children offer him companionship. In response, Skellig undergoes a remarkable metamorphosis that profoundly affects the narrator's (and audience members') first impression of the curious creature, and opens the way to an examination of the subtle line between life and death. The author adroitly interconnects the threads of the story—Michael's difficult adjustment to a new neighborhood, his growing friendship with Mina, the baby's decline—to Skellig, whose history and reason for being are open to readers' interpretations. Although some foreshadowing suggests that Skellig has been sent to Earth on a grim mission, the dark, almost gothic tone of the story brightens dramatically as Michael's loving, life-affirming spirit begins to work miracles.
Publishers Weekly

Exploring a tbumbling-down shed on the property his family has just bought, Michael finds Skellig, an ailing, mysterious being who is suffering from arthritis, but who still relishes Chinese food and brown ale. Michael also meets his neighbor Mina, a homeschooled girl. When she's not trying to open his eyes and ears to the world around him, she is spouting William Blake. As Michael begins nursing Skellig back to health, he realizes that there is something odd about his shoulders. Together, he and Mina move Skellig to a safe place, release the wings they find on his back from his jacket, and look after him until he eventually moves on. Throughout the story, readers share Michael's overriding concern for his infant sister, who is gravely ill. In the end, little Joy comes home from the hospital safe and happy and Michael's life has been greatly enriched by his experiences with her, Skellig, and Mina. The plot is beautifully paced and the characters are drawn with a graceful, careful hand. Mina, for all her smugness, is charmingly wide-eyed over Skellig. Michael is a bruising soccer player but displays a tenderness that is quite touching and very refreshing. Even minor characters are well defined. The plot pivots on the question of what Skellig is. It is a question that will keep readers moving through the book, trying to make sense of the cleverly doled out clues. The beauty here is that there is no answer and readers will be left to wonder and debate, and make up their own minds. A lovingly done, thought-provoking novel. —Patricia A. Dollisch, DeKalb County Public Library, Decatur, GA
School Library Journal

(Junior high.) Mina and Michael have seen Skellig together, a strange creature who lives in Michael's old garage, eating Chinese take-out and owl pellets. One magical time the three joined hands and danced in a circle, and the children grew wings from their shoulder blades and learned what it means to fly. In the midst of these wondrous things, Michael is trying to understand why his tiny baby sister is so fragile, and he worries that she will die. He and his father are trying to take care of each other while the mother is staying at the hospital with the baby. Michael's concerns for his little sister have taken him to some edge of awareness where he is able to see Skellig.... Skellig is a strange book, certainly a memorable one. It isn't the usual fantasy, rather there is something about it that makes the reader feel if he or she just looked a bit harder and listened more carefully, many wondrous creatures would be there to find... Almond, who is British, has written for adults, but this is his first world for children. (Editor's note: Skellig is the winner of England's Carnegie Medal; it is a Horn Book Fanfare Book and an ALA Notable Children's Book.)

Almond pens a powerful, atmospheric story: A pall of anxiety hangs over Michael (and his parents) as his prematurely born baby sister fights for her life. The routines of school provide some relief, when Michael can bear to go. His discovery, in a ramshackle outbuilding, of Skellig, a decrepit creature somewhere between an angel and an owl, provides both distraction and rejuvenation; he and strong-minded, homeschooled neighbor Mina nurse Skellig back to health with cod liver pills and selections from a Chinese take-out menu. While delineating characters with brilliant economy-Skellig's habit of laughing without smiling captures his dour personality perfectly-Almond adds resonance to the plot with small parallel subplots and enhances his sometimes transcendent prose ("'Your sister's got a heart of fire,'" comments a nurse after the baby survives a risky operation) with the poetry of and anecdotes about William Blake. The author creates a mysterious link between Skellig and the infant, then ends with proper symmetry, sending the former, restored, winging away as the latter comes home from the hospital. As in Berlie Doherty's Snake-Stone (1996) or many of Janet Taylor Lisle's novels, the marvelous and the everyday mix in haunting, memorable ways.
Kirkus Reviews

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