Here is a book that completely caught me off guard. I started the book expecting one thing, but ended up on an emotional journey that I wasn’t expecting in the slightest.
Stanley has a difficult life. His dad has left, his sister is seriously ill and his mum is always at work. All he wants is his family back. Then one day a skeleton begins to grow in the back garden. Day by day, it grows and Stanley sees his chance. If he can bag the perfect picture of the skeleton, he could win the Young Discovers prize. This will of course convince his dad to come back home.
On the face of it, I thought this was going to be a straight forward bringing the family back together story. Then, before long, the plot starts unraveling leaving tantalizing clues as to what will happen. Halfway through, it becomes plainly clear what is going to happen. For the rest of the book, I was willing something to happen to change the course of Stanley’s life. Hoping that I had misread the clues. Wishing that I wouldn’t have to go on the emotional rollercoaster that by now was inevitable.
I must admit that the opening quarter of the book didn’t do that much for me. However, by halfway, I couldn’t put the book down. Kim Ventrella moves the story with good pace, yet also spends time developing Stanley’s character. On one level he is an older brother who has a love-hate relationship with his sister, on another he holds a complex relationship with his mother, while his need to be loved shines through in his conversations with Ms Francine.
Without this interplay between characters, the book would falter. Because at its heart, this is not a skeleton story – it is one about family, longing and of loss. Here is where the book stands out for me. As you may have realised from the symbolism of the skeleton, death does rear its ugly head. And not in a way that I have encountered in many (if any) children’s books. It hits you full on. It will tug on your heart and leave you an emotional wreck, yet does this is with immense sensitivity.
For this reason, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is a book that deserves the recognition and deserves to be shared. However, as with Thornhill, if you are recommending this book to children, choose wisely. I know children who would be left broken by some of the subject matter. Equally, there are children who will benefit from a book which explores the emotions of bereavement in the way that it does.
In short, this is a fantastic debut novel that I just want to re-read all over again. Credit also to Victoria Assanelli for the illustrations, which add a subtle depth to the skeleton character.
For more about Kim Ventrella, visit her website.
Pages: 288 pages
Age Recommendation: 9+
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books