An intriguing concept and beautiful literary writing that’s reminiscent of David Almond’s classic Skellig.
Matt Barker has seen something strange. Something extraordinary that no one would normally see. That wouldn’t usually matter but Matt accidently tells the rest of his class when they’re playing the ‘truth game’ on the school bus. Now most of the class think he’s either mad or a liar. To make matters worse, his classmate and new next-door neighbour, Jazzy O’Hanlon, believes him and she’s determined to find a way to share his experience, even if that means losing her best friend.
Spirit has an unusual and intriguing opening when Matt announces in the first line that he saw a real live fairy and took it home in a bag. Author, Sally Christie, follows this with a powerful paragraph that addresses the reader directly: Well, what would you think if someone said that? This immediately draws you in and makes you want to read more, especially when the author goes onto suggest how you might react (If it was someone you knew – a friend – you might say they were joking) and points out the challenges associated with this reaction. (But nobody knew Matt Barker. No one could guess why he’d said what he’d said.)
The author quickly moves back into more traditional storytelling and we learn how the rest of the class react and what they, and their teacher, think of Matt’s strange claim. It is, however, only when point of view shifts again to Matt’s perspective that we become more settled in the story.
Matt is a well-developed and believable character and we immediately like and sympathise with him. Indeed, I challenge anyone not to understand Matt’s desire to protect his personal space and not to enjoy reading about the inventive ways he tries to stop anyone – particularly Jazzy – from sitting next to him on the bus on the school trip. Sadly, the constantly shifting point of view means this closeness isn’t maintained throughout the book.
This unusual approach to point of view (at least for modern writing) does have some advantages – enabling us to directly read about the thoughts of a whole cast of characters from the class teacher, Mr McGann, who invented the truth game to Matt’s mum as she worries how he’ll react to her decision to clean out his room. (Given the approach, I almost wished it had been taken one step further as I’d like to have seen things from the perspective of both Dash the dog and Jazzy’s younger sister, Melissa).
The overall plot is interesting but there were a few times when I couldn’t quite grasp the logic behind the plot points. For example, I didn’t really understand why Matt and Jazzy both fall asleep on the Burnham Stone just after the dramatic climax.
The themes of friendship running throughout the storyline are, however, strong and will appeal to the target audience.
Overall this is an intriguing concept from an obviously talented writer. However, you need to be prepared to feel quite distant from the characters and to make up your own mind about the spirits in Burnham Wood.
This is such an unusual middle grade story that it’s difficult to know what else to recommend. If you’re looking for something else with literary writing and an unusual and uncertain premise, I’d suggest you try the classic Skellig by David Almond.
Publication date: May 2018
Publisher: David Fickling Books
Author’s website: Sally Christie
Review first published on The Bookbag