|Publisher:||Delacorte Books for Young Readers|
Erin Law and her friends are Damaged Children. At least that is the label given to them by Maureen, the woman who runs the orphanage that they live in. Damaged, Beyond Repair because they have no parents to take care of them. But Erin knows that if they care for each other they can put up with the psychologists, the social workers, the therapists—at least most of the time. Sometimes there is nothing left but to run away, to run for freedom. And that is what Erin and two friends do, run away one night downriver on a raft.
What they find on their journey is stranger than you can imagine, maybe, and you might not think it’s true. But Erin will tell you it is all true. And the proof is a girl named Heaven Eyes, who sees through all the darkness in the world to the joy that lies beneath.
British author David Almond is on a roll. His first book for young readers, Skellig, won a prestigious 2000 Michael L. Printz Honor award, and his second, Kit’s Wilderness, won the Printz outright in 2001. Now comes a third, Heaven Eyes, which features a series of haunting, sepia-toned landscapes and a young narrator (an orphan) named Erin Law.
One night, Erin and her friends January Carr and Mouse Gullane flee from the orphanage, sailing down the moonlit river on a makeshift raft. As they are dragged into the mighty current, January’s eyes are wild with joy. “’Freedom,’ he whispered. ‘Freedom, Erin!’” Before they know it, however, the three adventurers run aground in sticky, oily, stinking, quicksand-like mud—the Black Middens. There they are greeted by a moon-eyed, diaphanous girl named Heaven Eyes, who speaks strangely and insists they are her long-lost sister and brothers, albeit “all filthy as filthy.”
She leads them back to her bizarre, broken world of abandoned printing works and warehouses full of tinned food and chocolates. Her sole companion is Grampa, who is straggly haired and just plain scary. Cocking a wary eye at the three visitors, he scribbles in his book: “Mebbe they’re ghosts. Mebbe they’re devils sent from hell or angels sent from heaven.” Despite Grampa’s frightening demeanor, however, Erin is completely taken by the guileless Heaven Eyes and the idea of being her “bestest friend.” The sweet, simple Mouse soon relishes his role as Grampa’s Little Helper, digging treasures out of the inky mud night after night. January, however, bitterly resents his o’er-hasty loss of freedom, sacrificed to a crazy world of “bloody freaks.” Almond’s choreography is masterful, and as the four children dance about each other we learn what, at the core, makes each of their young hearts beat faster.
As always, Almond shows us a world where the joy and terror of being alive coexist. What is real, what is imagined, what is remembered, and what is dreamed, all fuse together—and however dark his tales, he manages to tell stories infused with both hope and persistent, persuasive love. (Ages 10 and older) —Karin Snelson