For those fans looking for another Wonder, this is a completely different and yet utterly astonishing story.
12-year-old Silas Bird bears an imprint of an oak tree on his back from a lightning strike. He lives with his father, a boot-maker who has a keen interest in early photography and has made quite a name for himself taking portraits of people from far and wide. Also living in the house is Silas’s ghostly companion Mittenwool who has been with them since Silas was a baby and their dog, Argos.
One night, Mittenwool wakes Silas and tells him to stay inside as three men on horseback have arrived, demanding his father goes with them. Promising he will be back a week later, Silas’s father is taken away by the men leaving Silas distraught. But when one of the ponies returns riderless Silas knows in his bones it is sign for him to follow his father and find out what has happened to him. So begins one of the most extraordinary journeys I have ever read, across the wilds of mid-west America in the 1800s. The descriptions of nature and landscape are beautiful – this slows the story down a little – but the storytelling is so compelling that it is impossible to put the book down.
The main character Silas is magnificently realised. Although entirely different from Auggie in Wonder, Silas is also an extraordinary boy. He is extremely sensitive and sees ghosts yet has an inner strength and resilience to call on. He is almost not of this world himself. The symbiotic and yet very understated relationship between Silas and Pony is wonderful too. Pony comes into Silas’ life just when he needs him most and is a faithful and intrepid companion helping Silas face many dangers.
The bit part characters are excellent too. The ghosts are particularly superb; scary in places but not there to trouble anyone. They just exist alongside everyone else. There is a real sense of history in this story of lives lived and cut short and of love and loss across time and space.
The language is rich and vibrant and might perhaps speak more to adults than children at times but as with Philip Pullman’s novels this is book that would resonate with both adults and children. And there is also an intriguing mystery to solve. Who really is Mac Boat?