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The Stonewalkers Paperback – 7 Mar 1991
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|Paperback, 7 Mar 1991||
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Poppy is a liar, so no one believes her when she tells them that the statue Belladonna has come to life, nor that the statue is a vengeful, furious creature. Vivien Alcock is the author of "The Haunting of Cassie Palmer".
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Poppy Brown is a filthy liar. A disgusting, repugnant, truly overwhelming little fib-meister. There are various reasons for this. Some people think her lies spawn from the fact that her father died when she was young and her mother has always been repeatedly institutionalized (possibly to avoid the responsibility of Poppy). The kid has been shuffled from one foster mother to another like a piece of beloved (but not particularly enjoyed) old luggage. Now her mother is back in her life again and the two are living on a large English estate. Her only friend is a stone statue of a young woman whom Poppy has named Belladonna. When the girl fastens a mysterious chain she found in the estate's basement around Belladonna's ankle, she's shocked to discover that with a little lightening, her stone friend is brought suddenly to life. Unfortunately, this experiment turns distinctly Frankenstein-like and Poppy enlists the help of pudgy neighbor Emma to discover where her statue has gone and what it might do. When statues from churches and graveyards start walking off on their own accord, Poppy and her friend find themselves in terrible danger at the hands of these beautiful and horrible monsters.
When a read a blurb of a review of this book from Horn Book Magazine that called it, "An absorbing tale of terror", I didn't really believe it. Sure, I was a little disturbed by the image presented on its cover. If you purchase the 1998 reissue of "The Stonewalkers" then you are privy to a picture drawn by the excellent children's illustrator Barbara McClintok. Something about the picture really disturbed me. There was a hint of cruelty to it that I couldn't exactly place. Something to do with the faces of the child characters perhaps. I didn't give it much thought until I started reading the book itself. When things go bad for the kids in this story, they go real bad real fast. One child goes around being forced to move around on a broken ankle for long periods of time. Others have their hair ripped from their heads and wish that they could wake up from the nightmare that is their life. I'm a pretty liberal reader of children's books, but even I found myself getting a little edgy during some of these passages. Alcock leaves no doubt in your mind that these statues' cruelty stems from their misunderstanding of what it is to be human. Just the same, it makes for rather harrowing reading.
What allows Ms. Alcock to be such a wonderful writer is that even when her books are dealing with such fantastical themes as statues coming to life, they still are grounded in a story of growth and understanding. Poppy begins this tale a friendless liar and, through her troubles, learns what it is to be a friend and to care about the people around you. She also sorts out the whole fibbing thing as well, which is probably a great relief to her peers. The descriptions in this book are particularly gripping as well. When Belladonna comes to life, you believe that this is EXACTLY how such a thing would happen. Of course statues wouldn't be able to talk. But they could understand us and learn to make do on their own. The more I think about it, the more I realize that this really is a kind of Frankenstein tale brought down to a child's level (horror elements left intact). If you're fine with that, feel free to recommend it to someone you know.
"The Stonewalkers" is definitely not gonna be for those kids who are so timid that "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" was too much for them. If you've a child who has a taste for children's books with a dark vein of truth to them, however, definitely give Vivien Alcock a try. Her books are consistently well-written and consistently interesting. Just don't expect to fall asleep at night quite as easily after reading one.
Poppy Brown, shuffled from home to foster home and 'round again, lies. All the time. And for no reason! The end result is that no one believes her. Of course, NOW she's got a great, true story to tell, and if she tells it to anyone, it's going to sound like the biggest lie she's ever told. Living in Mr Hunt's house, where her mother works, Poppy has spent a lot of time in the garden. In one corner of the garden, Belladonna stands silent while Poppy tells her everything. This is a perfect arrangement for Poppy, because Belladonna doesn't talk back, think Poppy's a liar or ignore her like her classmates do during school.
One afternoon, Poppy finds herself talking to Belladonna as a storm begins to roll in. A bracelet she's made of chain she found becomes a gift to Belladonna and, somehow, between the lightning and the bracelet, Belladonna comes to life. Poppy eventually tells her story to Emma, the fat unpopular girl from school and the two spend the bulk of the book chasing after Belladonna and then running away from her and other statues she's brought to life with the chain.
There's some lessons in the book, about friendship and how you should treat people, about lying and the price you pay in trust, and about mothers and daughters and their relationships. Overall, the book's average, I wouldn't read it twice but it might get the budding Stephen King crowd interested.