Kit’s Wilderness by David Almond (1999)
Juvenile Fiction | Ghost Story
“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 has both worked and died in the mines, Askew invites Kit to join him in playing a game called Death. As Kit’s grandfather tells him stories of the mine’s past and the history of the Watson family, Askew takes Kit into the mines, where the boys look to find the childhood ghosts of their long-gone ancestors. Written in haunting, lyrical prose, Kit’s Wilderness examines the bonds of family from one generation to the next, and explores how meaning and beauty can be revealed from the depths of darkness.”
pooled ink Review:
Some books I read in one sitting while others take a bit of time. This book happens to be one my bookish soul decided to ration, choosing to read a few chapters each night before bed. Taking the long way round wasn’t because the book was dull but because something about it made that decision feel right. This simply didn’t feel like a book that could be rushed but rather would demand for you to take your time.
Despite being categorized for a younger audience the writing is technical and excellent bearing the low voice of a grandfather telling the children stories by the crackling fire. Thematically it also soars beyond that of just a child’s world making this a cozy dark read for people of different ages.
Kit Watson’s life in an old English coal-mining town explores several walks, facets, and truths of life. His beloved grandfather succumbs further and further to Alzheimer’s Disease with every chapter and it explores how the family (particularly Kit) are affected by it. Although his clarity is fading with time he continues to impart upon his grandson stories from the mines.
Kit also meets several other children all of whom belong to the “old families” (a.k.a. families that lived in the village back before the mines were shut down) and takes particular interest in two contrasting characters: Allie, the vivacious girl who looks ahead yearning for a different and wild future, and John Askew, the boy who surrounds himself with ancestors and holds on tightly to the stories of the past. Between these two characters, with Kit tossed between them, one explores two different old town mentalities as well as seeing different family life styles and ways children handle their lot in life.
Although Allie is easy enough to get along with, Kit continually finds himself drawn to the abrasive Askew and eventually throughout the book we see samples of a story Kit is writing which we find out is being written for Askew with a mirror to the boy’s life. Ghosts have surrounded these two boys – ghosts from the old mines, ghosts from their ancestors, ghosts from their lives – but as they grow closer in friendship they learn how to leave these ghosts behind.
It is true that Askew gathers up the kids from the old families and leads them in a game called “Death” where they reenact the deaths of children who died in the coalmines. This seems, or rather is, quite dark and morbid and their shocked teacher would quite agree. However children are not so fragile as one tends to believe and they defend themselves in varying imaginative ways. While this creepy game was just a silly game to the other kids it was a defense mechanism for Askew and became an escape for Kit.
Several of the powerful themes woven throughout this book include light and darkness, life and death, friendship, bravery, and remembering versus forgetting. All of these things are explored through the lens of children and made quite striking as a result.
My father is English and his family hailed from the north with his ancestors being coalminers so I felt a bit of a connection from that with this book. To me this book was told in what one could so easily place as an old man imparting wisdom, fairy tale, and memory swirled into one story shared during a cold winter’s night in a tiny village in England. My Granddad is an excellent storyteller (something of which I am envious) and this book feels as if it carries on this fading oral tradition and skill.
Charming, unnerving, clever, haunting, and surprisingly true Kit’s Wilderness is a book intended for young readers but with deep themes that speak to readers of all ages in a warm voice upon a chilling night. Spun with friendship, ghosts, memory, death and life this story will enwrap you with wonder.
Purchase here: Kit’s Wilderness
Meet David Almond!
David Almond is a British children’s writer who has penned several novels, each one to critical acclaim. He was born and raised in Felling and Newcastle in post-industrial North East England and educated at the University of East Anglia. When he was young, he found his love of writing when some short stories of his were published in a local magazine. He started out as an author of adult fiction before finding his niche writing literature for young adults. -Goodreads