Having adored Tom Avery’s debut children’s book for 9+ years, My Brother’s Shadow, Moontrug was very excited when his second book, Not As We Know It, arrived through the letterbox.
Jamie and Ned are twins. They do everything together: riding their bikes, beachcombing outside their house, watching their favourite episodes of Star Trek. But Ned is sick, and one day, he may leave Jamie behind. When they discover a strange creature on the beach, Ned wants one more adventure and decides to keep him secretly in their garage. But Jamie begins to hope that the creature might bring some miracle, and stop his brother from going where he can no longer follow…
Kate Grove’s stunning illustrations weave a certain magic through the book and combined with Tom Avery’s powerful story-telling, the effect is absolutely spell-binding. The book opens with a storm – water spraying against the window, thunder calling and black clouds gathering – and the elemental power that Avery conjures up here is sustained throughout the story. There is something otherworldly about the sea down past Ned and Jamie’s house. And through Grandad’s wonderful stories and the twin’s yearning for ‘one last adventure’, the magic of the mer people is made real.
But the mer creature the twins find isn’t just some far-fetched fantastical being. Avery’s writing is so mesmerising that the wonderfully named Leonard seems all too real – and his part in Jamie and Ned’s lives is beautifully presented. While Jamie finds Leonard frightening and becomes jealous of the bond he shares with Ned, Ned seems to understand Leonard. And what’s even more unnerving for Jamie is that Ned seems to belong to Leonard’s world of underwater clicks and moonlit singing far more than he does to the everyday world. Avery’s story-telling has an effortless quality to it, rather like David Almond’s , and it’s not unlike it in subject matter either (a strange, unearthly creature who may or may not possess the power the bring healing to a broken family). But within Jamie and Ned’s story, Grandad tells his own stories – of mythical women who turn to stars to watch over their people, of mermaids living beneath the waves, of voices that become the eternal sounds of the sea… And it is in these stories that Jamie gradually finds hope and consolation to his breaking world. For Ned and Jamie’s childhood joys (slalom bike rides, games of Risk, treasures on the beach, watching Star Trek) are set alongside an unbearable and inevitable sadness. But the book is not bleak because of it. Like Grandad’s stories, Leonard’s magic literally sings – and so does the hope it brings – the idea of ‘living’ even after unimaginable sadness interrupts your life. Not As We Know It is a heartbreakingly beautiful read for 9+ years – highly recommended.
PS: Message for Tom Avery: Moontrug is DEFINITELY playing Risk the way Jamie and Ned play it next time… (For every country you conquer, you have to say a cool fact about it). Moontrug likes.