A skillful debut presents a nuanced view of homelessness.
An unnamed girl, whose age and race are not given, lives in an unnamed town with her mother. Dubbed the Castle because of its spaciousness, their current place to live is actually an abandoned mill. While the girl’s mother spends the day outside, begging for spare change, the girl knows to remain invisible, hiding in the shadows or staying inside so the Authorities don’t try to take her away again. Related in the girl’s naïve voice, indicative of someone who has been sheltered much of her life, the story alternates between the pair’s current state and the girl’s harsh memories. These realistic remembrances reveal a mother who wants what’s best for her child but lets her guilt and depression give way to alcohol, drugs, and other bad decisions. The girl counters the isolation, poverty, and fear with an insatiable curiosity, friendliness toward a neighboring squatter, and her hypothesis that the Castle may be haunted. Although the story features a child protagonist, it’s meant for older, thoughtful readers who can sift through the despair. Its fairly slow pace may lose readers along the way, but those who persist through the heartbreakingly beautiful prose will discover a chilling conclusion.
The blend of dark and lovely will appeal to David Almond fans. (Fiction. 13-adult)