Allison's Book Bag

Kit’s Wilderness by David Almond

Posted on: October 26, 2013

It’s been a long time since I have read a book as unique in plot and style as Kit’s Wilderness by David Almond. The story is set in an old mining town, where many stories abound about those who were trapped during cave-ins and other disasters. The theme revolves around memories, those which Kit is told by his grandfather, and those which help Kit’s grandfather hold onto the present in his old age. Kit’s Wilderness is a beautifully-woven tale which deservedly won the Michael Printz award for literary excellence.

Kit’s Wilderness is hard to classify, beyond calling it realistic fiction. It doesn’t fit neatly into my round-up of fiction starring misfits and troubled kids, in that the only misfit/troubled kids are two of the secondary character. One of these is a troubled kid named John (but goes by Askew) who creates an invitation-only game called Death. A knife serves as a spinner, and the selected kid has to enter an abandoned den (a deep hole dug into the earth with a door at its mouth)–or else. When the school discovers the game, the den is filled in and Askew is expelled from school. That means that he has to stay home with his alcoholic and abusive father. One day he runs away and tries to drag along the main character, Kit. Askew doesn’t seem to fear death, perhaps because of his father or perhaps because members of his family have worked and died in the mines. There’s also a misfit kid named Allie. She calls herself a bad kid but it’s really more of a role than reality, as she reveals in her explanation about why she likes the theater: “Who’s Allie Keenan? This almost-nice one or this truly bad one? It’s like magic. I don’t have to be me. The world doesn’t just have to be the way it is. You can change it….” Allie enjoys attention, feels at home on the stage, and revels in the part of the ice girl in a school play. She also takes a shine to the main character, Kit.

Kit and his family have recently moved to the neighborhood to care for Kit’s grandfather. Kit is troubled only in the sense that many of us are, in that he’s haunted by the changes happening to someone he loves. Kit and his grandfather share a bond through stories. His grandfather tells him ones of the old mining town and Kit then writes them down and shares them at school. Through these stories, Kit earns admiration from both his teachers and his peers. He also attracts the attention of Askew, who invites him to play his game of Death because the two can see into the spiritual world. When taking his turn in the abandoned den, Kit begins to see faces of those from the olden days. Even when the game is shut down, Kit continues to be visited by deceased children from the town as well as characters from his stories (which he creates to make sense of a too-quickly-changing world). Kit isn’t mentally ill, but rather there’s a mystical aspect to his life. Nor is Kit’s Wilderness about the supernatural. Instead, Almond connects this spiritual element to the theme of memories, because eventually Kit’s grandfather must learn to sort through his past and his present (and figure out which is which) to stay grounded in reality. As part of this process, Kit’s grandfather also has his own glimpses of the dead.

In an interview with Teaching Books, Almond admits that when writing Kit’s Wilderness he felt perhaps it was a bit too dark to write and maybe a bit too difficult for young readers. Indeed, death is an intense subject, but Almond masterfully handles it with many overlapping subplots involving Kit, Askew, Allie, and Kit’s grandfather. Almond’s reflective style hails back to the old classics, which was refreshing to me, but consequently the writing is more literary and will require a greater time commitment from readers. I am certain a reread of Kit’s Wilderness is in my future, as I suspect it will feel richer each time it’s read.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?


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I am focusing this year on other commitments. Once a month, I’ll post reviews of Advanced Reader Copies. Titles will include: Freddy Frogcaster and the Flash Flood by Janice Dean, One Two by Igor Eliseev, Incredible Magic of Being by Kathyrn Erskine, Dragon Grammar Book by Diane Robinson, and Wide as the Wind by Edward Stanton.



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