Thursday, March 11, 2010

High School Pick

Creature of the Night
by Kate Thompson
Roaring Brook Press/Holtzbrinck Publishing, 2008.
250 pages.

Bobby leaves Dublin, Ireland, kicking, screaming, and swearing that he'll never move to the country. He vows to return to Dublin and his checkered past. Bobby's mother has other ideas; she moves Bobby and his younger brother Dennis to the Irish countryside to escape the poverty of Dublin and to get Bobby away from the bad influence of older neighborhood thugs who use Bobby as a "bag man." They know if he is caught by the police, they will let him go because of his age.

Bobby is quite a criminal for one so young--he is a practiced purse snatcher and thief, hot wiring and stealing cars, and joy riding all over Dublin. He is headed for prison for sure. This "urban fiction" book is today's version of The Outsiders.

Once in the country, the family settles into a cozy cottage with a shady past. It is whispered that an old couple killed their daughter in this cottage years before. They were never convicted and never faced time; still, where is that daughter? Then, more recently, a Swedish tourist rented the cottage and soon disappeared.

Irish folk tales of fairies and little people make this book magical and help cushion the volatile relationship between Bobby and his mother. The landlord and his family take an interest in Bobby and show him how to work their large farm. Bobby, although learning new skills, keeps trying to turn away from good and go back to his criminal past.

Kate Thompson walks a fine line in handling a fast paced plot with a tragic character who seems to have no shining qualities, telling a mystery story within the story, and sprinkling magical Irish fairy dust betwixt both. It takes artistry to evoke sympathy for a character like Bobby, a hardened youth, but Thompson is able to force the reader into caring what happens to Bobby and to root for him.

Several mysteries meet in the denouement but one question remains unanswered: Who really is the creature of the night? Class discussions and book groups would have a good time with this read.

Recommended for grade 8-high school readers.
Language, criminal behavior, adult situations. No sex.

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