Monday, September 14, 2009

A review by a teenage reader - The Various

A few months ago a reader called Lydia wrote to me to ask me to correct a mistake that I had made in a review I wrote for the book The Various. She was so charming and sharp that I invited her to write a review of the book for this blog. I was curious to see how she sees the book from her 14-year-old perspective.

The Various

By Steve Augarde

Ages 12+

Midge Walters is just an ordinary London girl who is extremely annoyed with her mother, a violinist in the Philharmonic Orchestra. Time and time again she has pleaded to go with her mother on a tour, and every time the answer is no, and it is no different now. This time Midge is going to stay with her quirky Uncle Brian who lives at Mill Farm. Midge instantly loves the farm and her uncle, whom she hasn’t seen for years.

She thinks that this stay will be the same as all the others has had: downright boring. Her cousins Katie and George aren’t going to arrive from their holiday for two weeks, so Midge is completely stuck with what to do, and decides to explore the surrounding fields belonging to her uncle. She is soon discovers how wrong she was; these are not going to be a boring few weeks. In fact they will probably be the most dramatic weeks in her life.

She finds an old, desolate pig barn hiding a big secret – a winged horse, about the size of a small deer, trapped underneath the spokes of a raking machine. As she nurses him back to health, she learns that his name is Pegs, and he lives in what she calls the Royal Forest, which is owned by Midge’s uncle. Pegs can speak, but not as humans do. It sounds to Midge as if Pegs is speaking on a strange sort of telephone, she can see the words like pictures and colours, but the sound is all inside her head. Call it telepathy, if you like.

Pegs takes Midge into the Royal Forest to meet the Various, a group of five tribes trying their best to survive in times where there is less and less food. Pegs had actually been sent out to seek food or safe land in the neighbouring forests, but all he found was a site full of trucks, diggers and felled trees. The closest word to describe the ‘little people’ would be ‘fairy’, but only one tribe, the Ickri, has wings, and even then they can only glide from tree to tree. They are about knee height but, though they are small, they possess spears and arrows. Some are less friendly than others, and some even try to kill Midge.

Midge is dragged into the tale of the struggling tribes, and she is horrified to find out that her uncle wants to sell the land to developers. Pegs urges Midge to tell queen Ba-betts of the Various about this news, which she does. She also finds out about an ancient connection between her and the Various. An ancestor of hers, a ‘Gorji’, as the Various call humans, once built a strong relationship with the tribes, but whenever she spoke of the little people, people thought she was mad.

Midge has the task and mission to protect the only home these strange, mystifying people have, all while keeping their presence a secret.

This first book in a trilogy about the Various, mixes fantasy and reality so closely that you sometimes wonder which is which. It is very difficult not to get sucked into the plot, and to actually feel as if you are becoming Midge herself.

This is a truly magical book, which really makes you think about where you stand today. In this present time people think they know everything about the world, but this book shows us that this is not so. Why, for all we know, there could be little people living right on our doorstep…

Reviewed by Lydia Mackean, aged 14

Thank you, Lydia. I hope to have more guest reviewers in the future.

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