“It was very deep, Kit. Very dark. And every one of us was scared of it. As a lad I’d wake up trembling, knowing that as a Watson born in Stoneygate I’d soon be following my ancestors into the pit,” so Kit’s grandfather tells him.
The Watson family moves to Stoneygate, an old coal-mining town, to care for Kit’s recently widowed grandfather. When Kit meets John Askew, another boy whose family had both worked and died in the mines, Askew invites Kit to join him to play a game called Death. As Kit’s grandfather provides stories of the mine’s past and the history of the Watson family, the boys search the mines to find the childhood ghosts of their long-gone ancestors.
Written in haunting prose and lyrical language, Kit’s Wilderness explores the bonds of family from one generation to the next, and how from the depths of darkness, meaning and beauty can be revealed.
Like David Almond’s 1998 Whitbread-winning Skellig, this powerful, eerie, elegantly written novel celebrates the magic that is part of our existence—the magic that occurs when we dream at night, the magic that connects us to family long gone, the magic that connects humans to the land, and us all to each other. As Kit’s grandfather puts it, “the tales and memories and dreams that keep the world alive.”
It seems fated that 13-year-old Christopher Watson, nicknamed Kit, would move to Stoneygate, an old English coal-mining village where his ancestors lived, worked, and died. Evidence of the ancient coal pit is everywhere—depressions in the gardens, jagged cracks in the roadways, in his grandfather’s old mining songs. A monument in the St. Thomas graveyard bears the name of child workers killed in the Stoneygate pit disaster of 1821, including Kit’s own name—Christopher Watson, aged 13—the name of a distant uncle. At the top of this high, narrow pyramid-shaped monument is the name John Askew, the same name of Kit’s classmate who takes the connection between this monument and life—and death—very seriously.
The drama unfolds as the haunted, hulking, dark-eyed John Askew draws Kit and other classmates into the game of Death, a spin-the-knife, pretend-to-die game that he hosts in a deep hole dug in the earth, with candles, bones, and carved pictures of the children of the old families of Stoneygate. Kit the writer and Askew the artist belong together, Askew keeps telling him. “Your stories is like my drawings, Kit. They take you back deep into the dark and show it lives within us still…. You see it, don’t you? You’re starting to see that you and me is just the same.” Are they, though?
Kit’s Wilderness conjures a world where the past is alive in the present and creeps into the future—a world where ancestral ghosts and even the slow-changing geology of the landscape are as tangible as lunch. Powerful images of darkness exploding into “lovely lovely light” filter throughout the story, as Almond boldly explores the dark side and unearths a joyful message of redemption. (Ages 11 and much, much older) —Karin Snelson
Barnes and Noble
The 2001 Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature was awarded to David Almond for his powerful tale of fates, friendship, and family: Kit’s Wilderness. When Almond’s first book, Skellig, was named a Printz Honor Book for 2000, it marked him as a talent worth watching. Now Almond proves himself once again with a hauntingly beautiful story about lost dreams, undying hope, and the immutable interconnectedness of life.
When 13-year-old Christopher “Kit” Watson and his family pack up and move to the onetime coal-mining town of Stoneygate, it is to care for recently widowed Grandpa Watson. The move is a stressful one for Kit, who struggles to fit in with a new crowd of kids in this depressed, dying town. Plus, Grandpa isn’t doing well; his health is deteriorating, and his mind seems prone to odd flights of fancy. Kit finds himself drawn toward two new friends: Alison Keenan, a flashy, bright young gal who is full of energy and life, and John Askew, a hulking, moody fellow who likes to play a game called Death. When Kit is picked as the next to “die” and left alone in a dark, abandoned mine shaft, he has an otherworldly experience that piques his curiosity about the mine’s history and the past connections between his family and the Askews.
Kit discovers that generation after generation of his own family eked out an existence in the town’s treacherous mines, including a 13-year-old boy named Christopher Watson, who died in the worst mine disaster on record. Another 13-year-old victim from that long-ago tragedy also bore a familiar name: John Askew. These ghosts from the past seem tied to their modern-day namesakes, connected by a thread of fate that stretches across generations. And suddenly Grandpa’s crazy musings don’t seem so crazy anymore. When John faces a crisis that threatens both his life and his family, the only person who knows how to help him is Kit. But it involves great risk, and Kit must choose between his own safety and that of his friend, a decision that will ultimately save and redeem them both.
Almond’s prose has a mesmerizing lyrical quality that is deceptive in its simplicity. His underlying theme of magic—both ordinary and profound—and his blend of mystery and mysticism will likely appeal to young audiences who like their stories seasoned with powerful imagery and occasional ambiguity. Kit’s Wilderness is a little spooky, a lot of fun, and utterly unforgettable. —Beth Amos