Oooooh it's a goodie! I've been meaning to pick up Marcus' books for actual years - I remember being at some SYP event in Foyles before I got into publishing and I was going to every book talk I could find. Marcus was the only speaker who was a kid's author and he asked if anyone worked in children's publishing. I'm pretty sure I put my hand up like a right nerd even though I wasn't technically employed yet! I thought it was interesting he'd worked for Walker before he became an author, so knew the technical side of things (also, later found that lovely Jonathan Stroud also worked for Walker before becoming an author, so it's a trend clearly!). Then a wonderful friend at Norwich Library, who gave me massive help in getting in to publishing, also recommended his books (cowabunga, if you're reading this). So it's been something I've been getting around to for a while...
Well I'm going to have to gradually acquire the whole backlist because White Crow was an absolutely brilliant read. Naturally written in an extremely graceful and vivid descriptive style, it was not only beautiful but very thought provoking. And having taken one whole unit on the American Gothic at UEA, and thus considering myself an expert, I can tell you it's very gothic! A fascination with death, themes of doubles, creepy houses... oh and a crow! All of the above are major gothic symbols.
White Crow is a story about a teenage girl who moves to a small coastal town for the summer with her dad. For reasons I won't divulge and spoil, Rebecca and her father's relationship is very strained. She soon meets Ferelith (rumoured to be named after the brilliant librarian! Now if that won't get you a nomination what will!) a strange, lonely and extremely intelligent girl who seems preoccupied with thoughts of death, the afterlife and the gradual ruin of the town as it falls into the sea. Another story runs alongside this modern day one, of a rather naughty priest in the 1700s who is involved in some grizzly work by a French doctor who is also preoccupied with the afterlife.
I found when I first started reading I was expecting this book to be quite whimsical and romantic as I didn't know much about it, but it quickly turned into a tense, chilling, gothic thriller with a deep philosophical element. It's really not a long book at all, and so packs an awful lot of thought and description into a succinct narrative. I found every time I had to put this book down I couldn't stop thinking about it and was mulling it over after finishing it too. Having a proper think about death and what happens next is something I don't often do - I tend to look sideways, above and around it. Really thinking about it can only last a few minutes before I feel like I'm leaning over the edge of something I can't really balance on. If you ask me, the real magic of books, and particularly children's books is that feeling that you're being shown something for the first time and taking a perspective you'd never imagined before. Whether, as adults, it's not really the first time, that feeling in a great book is just magic. White Crow really had that and prodded my brain into thinking over things I usually avoid. That's why I would say this is not only a major contender for this year's Carnegie but a genuine crossover title that adults and children alike should read.
White Crow by Marcus Sedgwick is published by Orion and is out now in paperback. It is longlisted for the 2012 Carnegie Medal.