Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Review: At the Firefly Gate

Sometimes good things really do come in small packages. Linda Newbery's At the Firefly Gate is a gem of a 152-page novel for the Middle Grade reader.

At the Firefly Gate weaves together two stories set some fifty years apart with the help of one ghost, some visions, and an elderly neighbor. The contemporary story begins when sixth-form student, Henry, moves from London to Suffolk: "3, Church Cottages, Crickford St. Thomas, Suffolk, was the sort of address Henry's mum had always wanted."

Henry doesn't share this dream, however, and to add insult to injury his parents moved before the last week of school. To help him make friends over the summer, they force Henry to spend time with his prickly next door neighbor, Grace. Grace is a year older than Henry and wants little to do with him. Fortunately, her great aunt Dottie takes an instant liking to Henry and makes him feel at home.

On his first evening in Suffolk, Henry catches sight of a man standing by the gate at the end of Henry's garden, staring up at him. The man is smoking and surrounded by fireflies. Soon Henry is dreaming from the point of view of this man, the dreams taking him back fifty years to a war-time food stand and a pretty girl with bright blue eyes.

Newbery brings the present and past together beautifully in At the Firefly Gate. The ghost story never seems contrived--the present and past overlap neatly in Henry's new village life. I also appreciated that Henry, albeit momentarily freaked out by the changes in his life, is more curious than frightened by his glimpse into the past. Henry takes his challenges as they come, be they real world (Grace, new school, new friends) or ghostly.

Linda Newbery is an exceptional writer. My mother reviewed her recent YA novel, Set in Stone, and compared her to Austen. I can see now that mom was not exaggerating. At the Firefly Gate is a stunner--a book I'll be pushing on everyone I know older than eight years old.
I received this book from the publisher.