Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Nightbird by Alice Hoffmann

In her first novel for middle-grade readers , bestselling author Alice Hoffman tells a bewitching story of love and friendship that is truly magical.

Twig lives in Sidwell, where people whisper that fairy tales are real. After all, her town is rumored to hide a monster. And two hundred years ago, a witch placed a curse on Twig’s family that was meant to last forever. But this summer, everything will change when the red moon rises. It’s time to break the spell.

Goodreads description 

Alice Hoffman is a prolific writer. She writes not only excellent adult fiction, but also books for teenagers and now here is a book for middle-graders. Nightbird, like all of Hoffman's books that I have read (some of which I have reviewed here), is set in the real world with an important magical element - in other words it is magic realism. 

I don't usually review non-adult magic realism and when I do I am struck that the magic element does not seem so remarkable, because children accept magic in the world, that fairy tales are real (as the description says), and that is reflected in their books.  So many of the books I loved at this age were magic realist and I wonder whether they influenced my adult liking for the genre. One of my favourites, and one I have reviewed on this blog, is Skellig by David Almond, which shares certain magical elements with this book.

This is a lovely gentle book. The story is seen through the eyes of young Twig. It is a story of sibling loyalty, of friendship and the desire to be accepted. And then there is the magic, which is as ever beautifully handled. I can see a lot of girls curling up in bed enjoying this. I read it with pleasure, but I found something lacking.

I have commented in the past about Hoffman's ability to include hard reality in her books, but I don't find it here. Maybe Hoffman pulled back because of the age of the readership. There is a lack of an antagonist force in the storyline. To be sure there is a "monster", but all it is doing is stealing washing and fruit pies. There is the fear that townsfolk might turn vigilantes, but that isn't really built up. There is also an ecological threat to the woods, but not enough is made of this. But then not all young people want a book that scares or challenges them, I suppose.

I received this book free from the publisher in return for a fair review.

P.S. You will see that I have displayed two different covers for the book. The one above is I think the one for the UK market, while the one below is for the US. What do you make of the differences and what it says of the two markets?

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