This ambitious generously illustrated story has a heroine younger than her intended readership. But although Lily still sleeps with a favourite stuffed toy at her side she is older and sadder in other ways, given that she is undergoing regular dialysis for a possibly fatal illness. This puts her apart from her school friends and also her parents, who are trying to balance their joy in the imminent arrival of a new baby with their justifiable fear that Lily is going to react jealously – as she does.
This is just the start; what happens after that is grippingly unexpected when Lily enters into a fantasy land where her illness takes on physical shape in the guise of two horrible semi-recognsiable figures whom she calls parent-things. Their black coal eyes sucking out the light make them reminiscent of the equally unpleasant phantoms in Neil Gaiman’s classic Coraline. They want her dead, but on Lily’s side there is a small parliament of talking animals fighting her corner. And so the battle rages, rather more darkly at times than is hinted at on the book’s cover promising a ‘most entertaining adventure.’ Nick Lake is always good, never writing down to his audience, and Emily Gravett is in brilliant, black and white form, providing plenty of appropriately spooky pictures. Designer David McDougall keeps up the pressure with dark borders and occasionally completely blackened pages.
All is fine until the last twenty pages, when the pervasive sense of fear is replaced by events and outcomes now reflecting an over-insistent and finally unconvincing sense of optimism. Catherine Storr’s epic story Marianne Dreams also personifies childhood illness and recovery but without a single false note. This present novel stands good comparison with her story before stumbling at the last fence after a hitherto excellent run.