Welcome to our Anniversary Blog by resident blogger Jake Hope. Jake will be reading and reviewing all of the past CILIP Carnegie Medal winning books during the anniversary year. We are also asking shadowers to "Adopt a Book" and join in reading and discussing the anniversary titles in their shadowing groups.
"He now felt sure that he was being haunted by the dead boy who had been his great-uncle. He could feel that fierce owl moving through his mind, touching his memories, his ideas, hears, his happiness. As this wild spirit moved into him, Barney was himself changed, and perhaps this change was what the Scholar family was recognizing and responding to. Like compass needles returning to the north, they were moving to ace that powerful ghost"
When I first read this as a child, I struggled to appreciate it. There felt to be a cold quality about the characters and it made me uneasy. Re-reading it, of course, that is part of its brilliance. Sometimes when we read a book it doen't instantly connect with us, indeed sometimes that never happens, but opinions and views can change just as happened here. I'm very glad to have given it another chance.
Barney Palmer is a somewhat otherworldly eight year old. His life takes a turn towards the unexpected when he encounters a ghostly apparition that proclaims ‘Barnaby’s dead!’ So begins a surprising story of the supernatural which skilfully explores the way the psychology of fear can exert itself and the impact this is able to hold upon every aspect of our lives. Running parallel to this paranormal plot strand is an infinitely subtle, carefully crafted story of a family undergoing great change as step-mother Claire is pregnant.
As the story unfolds, readers will question whether Barney’s sensitivity is a curse or a gift and the way this contributes to who he is and how he feels… Would Barney feel and behave in different ways were it not for this sensitivity? There’s an uneasy, almost mist-like quality that hangs, low and brooding, over the book making reading it often feel like stepping into the unseen and the unknown. This can feel vaguely disorientating, leaving readers never quite certain what to think, feel or know what might be about to follow.
Sisters Troy, introverted and withdrawn, and Tabitha, outgoing and keen to centre herself at the action, give colour, structure and context as Barney tries to come to terms with what is happening to him. There’s a pithy quality to Mahy’s turn of phrase which often ricochets and reverberates in the mind and memory. Like a photographic negative, the light and peculiar atmosphere of the story make a lasting imprint and whilst never terrifying it is certainly difficult not to feel disquieted.