Follow Me Down Hardcover – 3 Jul 2003
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Reading Julie Hearn's first novel for children is a fascinating experience. Inventive and well-researched, Follow Me Down spirals from modern times to the historic, from the grotesque to the life-affirming, from thunderingly exciting to painfully dramatic, all the while putting its lead character, Tom, on an emotional roller-coaster in two very different dimensions, in ways that are at times hard to digest.
Tom and his ill mother, Catherine, are visiting East London in the modern day to stay with his gran near Smithfield Market. It is an area rich with the sort of history that Tom never ever expected to experience for himself--until he wanders down into his gran's basement and is transported back, somehow, through a "gap" to the 18th century. Here he meets a group of people who are commonly displayed as freaks at the Bartholomew Fair: Machi Twist, the Bendy Man, and the Gorilla Woman. Strangest of all is Astra, a tiny child who Tom is determined to save from her unfortunate circumstances. It is also a time when doctors trade in the sinister acquisition of bodies to experiment on--with Tom's new found "monster" friends all being prime targets.
It's exciting stuff, but with very dark overtones indeed. Tom is able to help his friends with their terrible problems but at the same time he faces the realities of his own shattered family life. Ultimately, he learns to look beyond appearances.
Follow Me Down is adorned with the kind of prestigious endorsement, in this instance from Philip Pullman no less, that guarantees it a certain level of attention. Between the covers, however, is where it matters and Hearn's writing duly sparkles. Her stimulating novel is sure to stay with the reader long after it has been read. (For ages 12 and over) --John McLay
This is an exceptional first novel from a writer of enormous promiseSee all Product description
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Twelve-year-old Tom and his mother, who's recovering from breast cancer, are spending the summer holidays at his grandmother's home in East London. Tom has a bunch of problems; on top of his mom's sickness, he has to deal with being away from his friends and trying to figure out the tense relationship between his mother and grandmother. And then, the voices in the basement start calling to him. The voice, which seems strangely familiar to him, calls from across a gap in both space and time.
The voice belongs to Astra, a tiny "changeling child" who's one of the circus "freaks" on display at the Bartholomew Fair in the early eighteenth century. Astra and her friends, like the Bendy Man and the Gorilla Woman, are constantly in peril, not only from the unscrupulous management and the fair's patrons, but also from physicians who would love to dissect their unusual bodies and perform experiments on them. When Tom is called across the gap, he is drawn into London's dark underbelly to help his friend. In the meantime, in the present day, Tom is finding out troubling secrets about his own family's history.
SIGN OF THE RAVEN is creepy, evocative and detailed as it portrays events of history, often in earthy and surprisingly straightforward terms. A mystery, a time-travel fantasy, a historical novel with modern-day appeal: SIGN OF THE RAVEN's fast pacing and vivid recreation of gruesome past events will appeal to fans of many different genres.
--- Reviewed by Norah Piehl
Rarely has anyone read a book concerning the terrible conditions that circus freaks must have lived under, and I'm not sure many people have thought about it. And, having not heard of Julie Hearn before, I'm looking forward to finding "The Minister's Daughter" in our library.
For us non british readers, brings us closer to the smells, noises and ways of English people, and gives everyone a glimpse of worlds as magical as J.M. Barry used to imagine, but with a sour lemon twist that makes us remember the low and dirty streets of the novels by Doyle.
Gaze at "follow me down", remember that there's always something down in the basement.