This has been one of those books that has always intrigued me, but I’ve never quite managed to pick up- I first spotted it in Shakespeare and Company in Paris and promptly forgot about it, then became interested again once my collection of vintage photos took off… and forgot about it again! Eventually, I put in a reservation for it at the library and devoured it within a couple of days.
Jacob’s grandad told him stories about his childhood as a Jewish evacuee sent to a children’s home on an isolated Welsh island. The stories were peppered with photographs of people doing odd things and incredible tales of what they could do- they seemed almost superhuman. As Jacob grew, he believed in the stories less and less, until he dismissed them as fairy tales. All of this ends, though, when Jacob finds his grandfather dead in the woods behind his house. And so, Jacob must make his own pilgrimage to the strange Welsh island…
The main thing that sets this YA fantasy apart from its peers is the use of the photos; they’re eerie and beautiful representations of the early years of experimental photography and records of sideshows. They really add to what could be otherwise a slightly run of the mill narrative, although the book proved so popular that there is a sequel published, with a third later this year.
I did enjoy the book, although when I ordered it from the library, I didn’t realise it was a YA novel. It definitely will find its fans in those who are ready to move on from Harry Potter (a bunch of kids in a children’s home, presided over by a stern, yet kind, shapeshifting woman?) It’s not every day I read fantasy novels and to find one I enjoyed is a rare thing indeed.
Buy the book here with free p+p (affiliate link)