By Julie Hearne
Published by Oxford
ISBN 978 0 19 279215 0
Every so often an exceptional book comes along that makes you want to stand on the roof tops, hold it up and shout to everyone passing by, 'Read this, please!'
Julie Hearne's wonderful Rowan The Strange is just such a book. It is an amazing piece of fiction that deserves to be devoured. Hearn has already shown herself to be a talent to watch but she has surpassed herself with the story of Rowan, producing one of the most remarkable novels of recent years.
Rowan Scrivener is an ordinary lad but sometimes a voice inside his head tells him to do strange things. He can't stop himself.
It is September, 1939, and Britain is at war with Germany. Rowan is sitting thinking about what is going to happen. He can hear his sister practising the piano. Suddenly, the voice in his head tells him that a German bomb will fall on their house if the music doesn't stop. The voice gets more insistent. Rowan rushes inside and tells his sister to stop playing the piano. She refuses, so Rowan slams the piano lid down on her hands, breaking three fingers.
Rowan is a nice lad, but his moments of terrible madness are becoming so frequent his parents have no option but to get help. Rowan is sent to a psychiatric hospital where Dr Von Metzer is conducting experimental electric shock treatment that could cure Rowan. But the experiments are controversial and unproven.
The other inmates of the special hospital all have mental problems. Rowan strikes up a relationship with Dorothea, a teenager who sees angels. Dorothea has also been singled out for Von Metzer's untested therapy. Can they be cured?
Hearn has written a compelling and emotional story about these two teenagers. The subject matter of Rowan The Strange is unusual and dark for a work of youth fiction, but the evolving friendship between Rowan and Dorothea and everything else going on around it is observed with so much intelligence and truth that readers will be drawn into it and not want to let go.
All the characters are outstandingly real. Rowan's parents, his eccentric grandmother, the director of the hospital, his staff and the other inmates are all expertly created and add much to this astonishing novel.
There aren't enough superlatives in the dictionary to describe Rowan The Strange. Unless something equally stunning comes up in the next few months, Rowan is definitely the book of the year.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com