A.F. Harrold already has a place in my heart as a special kind of writer – a writer who gets to the heart of matters in the most beautiful way. His book ‘The Imaginary’ is a gorgeous story and perfectly shows that illustration can still have a vital place in fiction for older readers. Illustration should not be confined to picture books and the delight of little ones alone! They can be evocative, powerful and provide a window to help connect the reader with the story on a much deeper level. In ‘The Imaginary’ we saw the pairing of Harrold with Emily Gravett and oh it was glorious, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on something new!
‘The Song From Somewhere Else’ is another beautiful example of wordsmith and artist – the pairing of A.F. Harrold and Levi Pinfold is perfect.
This is the story of Frank and her unlikely friendship with outsider Nick Underbridge. When Nick rescues her from the bullies that have been secretly tormenting her, she doesn’t know how to feel. She is grateful, but Nick is the class misfit and to be seen with him makes her feel embarrassment and confusion. With this simple scene, the reader is drawn into a compelling story of darkness, secrets and friendship, as Frank and Nick’s paths begin to weave together.
The characters are beautifully drawn in both words and pictures – Pinfold’s illustrations create such atmosphere that the book would be smaller without them. What I particularly loved about this book was the way it dealt with the subject of bullying with such honesty – Harrold doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable and upsetting scenes. The juxtaposition of the fear Frank feels in the park, where the bullies hold court, and the safety she experiences in Nick’s home, is teased out slowly. She feels compelled to go back to Nick’s home for the music she heard there and tells herself it’s not for Nick’s friendship.
‘It was in her ears, in her brain, sparking electricity across synapses in ways that made her unable to resist it.’
The story weaves the real with the uncanny seamlessly, quickly absorbing you in the magic that surrounds Nick and his dad. Harrold has been compared to Gaiman and whilst I can see the connection, I do believe Harrold very much has his own voice – his is quieter, more flowing, more poetic than Gaiman’s dark humour, gothic suspense and mirror landscapes. Pinfold matches Harrold’s style with his atmospheric black and white illustrations and shaded scenes – they bring to life the otherworldly and the familiar.
This is ultimately a story about the power of friendship and forgiveness. It addresses bullying and alienation, family and acceptance. It is a story that will grab your heart and its quiet strength will stay with you long after the final page.
Perfect for ages 10+.
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