Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Savage by David Almond

Illustrator: Dave McKean
Publisher: Candlewick (2008)
Hardcover: 80 pages
Genre: graphic novel
Rating:  4 out of 5

What happens when a young boy suddenly loses his father? How does a boy cope with bullying when he has lost his hero? Blue Baker is a young boy in pain. He's not alone, but he's not understood by the adults that try to help him. Mrs. Molloy, the school counselor takes him out of class to write his thoughts and feelings down, but Blue thinks its stupid and that just makes him feel worse. Instead, he starts to write the story of "the Savage" who lives in Burgess Woods.

This little story is about Blue's attempt to deal with his father's death and to deal with the bully Hopper who is set on cashing in on Blue's pain by bullying him even more after Blue's dad dies. Blue, in his young boy scrawl starts to write about a wild, savage boy who lives in the woods behind his house. This savage can't talk, but he knows how to survive alone by living on berries and roots and rabbits or whatever he can steal from the nearby houses. No one knows about the savage because if anybody saw him, he would chase them and kill and eat them.

Hopper makes his way into Blue's story and the Savage is used as Blue's alter ego who is strong enough and crazy enough to take on Hopper. That's where Blue's story and his reality starts to blend as the Savage not only shows up in Hopper's room at night, but also in Blue's sister's room. From the Savage Blue learns power, and from Blue, the Savage learns humanity.

Although the writing is sparse, the watercolors by McKean are powerful and full of rage and frustration - a perfect mirror for a boy who suddenly finds himself fatherless and alone. The watercolors are reminiscent of Stephen Gammell's watercolor spattered illustrations in Monster Mama in their anger and spittle.

I think for some the writing is too sparse which would be a detriment to caring about Blue, but I think there is just enough in the relationship with Blue and his little sister Jess to find this little book sad and charming. I empathised with Blue and rejoiced in his empowerment through writing on his own terms. It doesn't matter if the Savage was real or not, only that Blue found his young voice and learned how to roar.

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