Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Big issues are front and center in Almond's gripping new novel, told in the present-tense voice of teenage Liam and set in contemporary northern England. War rages in Iraq and elsewhere, and army jets fly low over where he lives. "All of us are beasts at heart. . . . We have to help the angel in us to overcome the beast." Yes, the messages are spelled out, but readers will want to talk and argue about them, sparked by the authentic characters and the searing drama of their lives. In spare, stirring words, Liam tells of his tenderness for a foundling baby that his family takes in; his fear and rage about his bullying classmate, Nattrass; and his friendship with a young Liberian asylum seeker, Oliver, who saw soldiers slaughter his family, soldiers who said that God was on their side. Nattrass calls Oliver a terrorist and thinks he should be sent back, as do the immigration officials. Always there is the pull of violence, felt by both children and adults, including tourists who visit ancient castles and other remnants of past wars. Is God a war criminal? The tension builds to a shocking and totally believable ending. Readers will recognize that "the murderer in all of us is just below the skin," but the kindness in every chapter is heartbreaking too. A haunting story, perfect for group discussion. Copyright 2009 Booklist Reviews.

BookPage Reviews

A disturbing view of the dark side

Liam Lynch’s father, a famous fiction writer, has often said that “the real world is the very very strangest of places.” Liam was out wandering with his friend Max when they found an abandoned baby girl with a scribbled note attached to her blanket: “PLESE LOOK AFTER HER RITE. THIS IS A CHILDE OF GOD.” Next to her was a jam jar filled with notes and coins. Mr. Lynch has always told Liam to “Live an adventure. Live like you’re in a story.” And now Liam does—in a story of wandering children, a strange baby, a message and a treasure. The story broadens to include a war refugee from Liberia, the local bully and a teenage girl who survived a fire in which her family perished.

Raven Summer is David Almond’s darkest novel yet, evolving from characters and themes in his previous works, with unsettling undertones of Lord of the Flies and Heart of Darkness. There is a narrative arc in Almond’s body of work, pointing the way to this beautiful and poetic look at the dark side of human nature. Almond’s Skellig was all about mystery and the feeling that “the world’s full of amazing things.” In Kit’s Wilderness, the theme of darkness and light is developed, reflected in Grandpa’s statement, “This is our world. Aye, there’s more than enough of darkness in it. But over everything there’s all this joy, too, Kit. There’s all this lovely, lovely light.”

Raven Summer shares with The Fire-Eaters a cast of characters trying to live in a world in the face of war. In Clay, a monster is created to get back at the local bully; in Raven Summer, we are the monsters, each of us capable of the “darkness at the heart of the world.” This is a Brothers Grimm mindscape of fairy babies and fairy gold; witches and monsters, foundlings and angels; ancient border raids and modern war; snake pits and caves, ravens and wanderers.

Still, what remains after this dark tale is an angel baby, an ordinary family and their familiar garden—a well-lighted home in a dangerous world. Almond is one of the finest writers in the world of children’s literature, a writer of uncommon vision and elegant prose, fully capable of plumbing the heart of darkness and the “lovely, lovely light” as well.

Dean Schneider teaches middle school English in Nashville.

Copyright 2009 BookPage Reviews.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews

"The murderer in all of us is just below the skin." Almond's latest entrancingly dark tale explores the tenuous boundary between innocence and evil. Liam and his friend Max are playing outside, digging for treasure in the sun-baked soil of their rural Northumberland home, when they notice a raven that appears to be calling to them. The raven leads them to a ruined farmhouse, where they find an abandoned baby and a note that reads, "Plese look after her rite. This is a childe of God." The mythic nature of these circumstances is tempered by the contemporary time period. It's early in the Iraq War; young British soldiers train for battle in the Northumberland countryside, and a journalist, a native of the region, has recently been taken hostage in Baghdad. Almond creates a complex, inspired swirl of seemingly disparate elements, including in the mix a Liberian foster child who turns out to be "the worst of all victims" -- a boy forced to fight, in his native land, with the rebels who slaughtered his family. In spite of all the violence, implied and also enacted in present-day exchanges between Liam and the neighborhood bully, the story has a sweetness to it, fostered by the hope that human beings can, as Liam's mother phrases it, "help the angel in us overcome the beast." Copyright 2009 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews

With a storyteller's flair and a poet's precision, Almond reveals the fierce intensity of childhood, and this rare acknowledgment permeates his latest novel set in England's Northumberland in the time of Bush and Blair. A noisy raven leads 14-year-old Liam Lynch and his best friend to a golden-haired baby lass, abandoned in ruins. This fairy-tale story captures the media's imagination (and even that of his preoccupied famous-author father) and ultimately leads Liam to the green-eyed Crystal, a passionate, troubled foster-care teen who considers him "normal" in part because he's loved by his family, and Oliver, a Liberian refugee who isn't telling his whole, awful story. Liam's colorful entourage forces him to examine the very nature of evil—is it the barmy, bullying Nattrass, who delights in staging blindfolded beheadings? Is it in Oliver's eyes? In his own? Was even the sweet foundling born a beast and murderer? The baby's happy coos, even as Iraq-bound planes fly overhead, ground this hypnotic, sensuous foray into the nature of war, truth, art and the savagery of humanity. (Fiction. 14 & up) Copyright Kirkus 2009 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Media Connection

After finding a knife and its old sheath, Liam and his friend are led by a raven to a baby in the woods. Liam takes the baby home, and his parents turn it over to authorities. This event changes Liam?s life in many ways. He meets Oliver, a refugee from Liberia and Crystal, another girl living in the foster home where the baby is placed. At home he has to deal with a bully who used to be one of his friends. Liam calls the knife he found Death Dealer, but he never thought it would be possible for him to use it for anything but playing war or hunter. This is a good story of growing up, confronting prejudice, and finding out what is important in life. However, it has many British phrases and no glossary, which leaves the reader to figure out the meanings from context. Generally, they are not of importance to the plot of the story, but the inexperienced reader may give up before he or she gets to the meat of the story. Although I do recommend it because it is a great story, it may be limi ed to better readers. Recommended. Patricia Brown, Library Media Specialist, Archbishop Alter High School, Kettering, Ohio ¬ 2009 Linworth Publishing, Inc.

Publishers Weekly Reviews

In a thought-provoking coming-of-age story, British writer Almond (Skellig; Clay) delves into the darkest realm of the human psyche as he expresses the conflicting urges of an adolescent. Liam is walking with a friend when a mysterious raven leads them to an abandoned baby. The boys are lauded for bringing the infant safely home, but Liam doesn't feel heroic. While he has enormous tenderness for the infant (and a pair of foster children he meets), he is deeply affected by acts of violence: sordid videos sent to him by a classmate, visceral accounts of war, and a local art gallery's display of disturbing images. His mother dismisses the pictures as "voyeuristic trash," but his father thinks they may have value: "Maybe they're showing us how horrible the world is." Liam's views vacillate and his morals are tested several times, but never as dramatically as during a final reckoning, when violence seems the only way to save a friend's life. Almond tackles complex questions about humanity from multiple points of view; flashes of wisdom—sometimes painful, sometimes uplifting—arrive at unexpected moments. Ages 12–up. (Nov.)

[Page 47]. Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

School Library Journal Reviews

Gr 7–9—Liam lives with his father, a famous writer, and his mother, a photographer, on Britain's Northumbrian coast. One day out wandering with his friend Max, Liam is led by a raven to a baby left with a note and some money. When Liam and his parents visit the infant's foster family, Liam connects immediately with two of the foster children, Crystal, a wild-child girl, and Oliver, a refugee from Liberia. Liam's mother falls in love with the baby, and she comes to live with his family. When Crystal and Oliver run away to Liam's secret hideaway, Oliver reveals his true identity, and Liam is forced to explore the darkest parts of his own soul as he realizes the evil he is capable of doing. Raven Summer is set in the recent past against the backdrop of the war in Iraq. It explores how children everywhere are physically and psychologically scarred by violence and brutality that they cannot escape and can be led to do horrible things. Almond's story is a passionate plea for peace, and the putting away of weapons of war. While the question of the book's audience is a valid one, and while there are perhaps a few places where the children seem impossibly wise, and are even perhaps acting as mouthpieces for the author, this book is exquisitely crafted and will make any reader stop and think about the consequences of violence.—Tim Wadham, St. Louis County Library, MO

[Page 105]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

Voice of Youth Advocates Reviews

Summer vacation is adventurous for high school student, Liam. In the woods, he and his friend Max find an abandoned baby, who is later fostered by Liam's mother. He is harassed by Nattrass, a childhood friend who now leads a gang of bullies intent on scaring others with their cruel games. He meets Crystal and Oliver, two foster children scarred by horrific events in their lives, who run away together, seeking Liam to cover for them. The three eventually hide out in a cave near Liam's Northumberland village. After Nattrass and his chums find the runaways, Liam attacks him with a knife, nearly killing him in a fit of anger. Almond shows his deftness at presenting his characters with psychological dilemmas. In this book, he probes the motivation for individuals to resort to violence. He effectively juxtaposes the innocence of the baby with the bullying of Liam's peers and the violent games that children sometimes play, suggesting that perhaps violence is something that can be programmed. He also contrasts the normalness of country life with violent events going on in other places. It is a dark novel, suited more for mature male readers; however, they may find Liam almost too immature for his supposed age and the constant attention on war and violence too disturbing. Despite these flaws, Almond can be credited with raising important questions about the nature of violence and the influence of parenting on children's behavior.—Chris Carlson 4Q 4P S Copyright 2009 Voya Reviews.