Thursday, 1 September 2011

Dark Summer by Ali Sparkes

I first came across Ali Sparkes work when I kept losing to her on regional book awards. You might think that that would sour me to her, but that wasn't the case at all. The more I heard about her, the more intrigued I became. Young readers would tell me that Ali Sparkes was like Enid Blyton, but more real; like Susan Cooper, but happening now; like Alan Garner, but with contemporary children. Then, when Frozen In Time won the Blue Peter Book of the Year Award in 2010, I realised it was time to get her back-catalogue and start reading.

I'm reviewing Dark Summer, but I could equally have recommended Frozen In Time or Wishful Thinking, her other standalones. Or indeed, her series fiction. They're all great reads.

Dark Summer is the story of Eddie who is forced to spend the summer with seriously annoying, self-serving relatives. His mother is ill and until she's better, he can't go home. His only ally at his aunt's house is Great-Uncle Wilf, who is also long-suffering at her hands.

It is all set to be the worst summer of Eddie's life, until a day out at Wookey Hole caves changes everything.

Eddie meets a girl who is perfectly at ease in the darkness, who appears and disappears at will and seems very interested in Eddie's home life and in Uncle Wilf in particular.

As I live in the West Country it was great to see a local attraction get such a starring role. But I would have enjoyed the descriptions of the caves anyway. Caves have always been gateways in stories: to faery realms, to hades, to chaos and confusion. Sparkes makes full use of the claustrophobic and panic-indusing nature of darkness. I had cause to remember a visit to a cave system in Australia, where I crawled through a very small fissure in order to reach the next cave. For one moment, I felt the crush of the bedrock above me on the small of my back and the insanity of what I was doing was suddenly laid bare. A proper horror moment. Well, this book took me back there. I found myself reading with sweaty palms more than once.

Eddie's discoveries below ground, with the mysterious Gwerren are mirrored by discoveries above ground about just how dastardly his aunt has been. It is a very clever structure and both stories dovetail into very satisfactory and complimentary conclusions.

Dark Summer is a book I would heartily recommend to children who are confident readers, especially those with a taste for mystery and adventure.

OUP 2009
ISBN: 9780192710987
RRP: £5.99

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3 comments:

Penny Dolan said...

Another book to add to the list!

Anonymous said...

wow I love this book

Anonymous said...

I am doing a book report on this book this has given me lost of inspiration don't worry I wont copy :)

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