Monday, 9 June 2014

Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper - Carnegie review

This is an enchanting story of two young men, the disparate cultures that they inhabit and the emerging nation that they share. It is set amidst the atmospheric historical background of seventeenth century Massachusetts. Like much of Susan Cooper’s work, Ghost Hawk is hauntingly written and draws heavily on mythology, magic and the local landscape.

It opens with eleven year old Pakanoket boy, Little Hawk, preparing for the traditional three month solo journey which will prove that he has become a man. Little Hawk survives and matures but returns home to make a horrifying discovery. He moves to a new village and some time passes before a confrontation with European settlers that utterly changes him - and the course of the story.

Ghost Hawk is very much a book of two halves, and although Little Hawk remains the narrator, most of the second part of the book follows the life of ten year old John Wakeley through to middle age. Although the boys’ backgrounds are different, changes occur that set John on a new trajectory and elements of his story begin to mirror those of Little Hawk. 

There is an age guidance label of the back of Ghost Hawk of 11+ which feels about right, given the mature - sometimes even harrowing - themes that are explored. These include the struggle to survive in harsh surroundings, the subjugation of indigenous populations and religious freedom. 

This book contains many evocative descriptions, covers a long timespan and has an unusual structure. These were all elements that I enjoyed, but as I reread the book for this review I wondered if it may make Ghost Hawk a trickier read than tweens and younger teens are accustomed to. The advice I would give them - and indeed did give to my twelve year old daughter - is that the pace of this book allows the reader to take the time to pause and feel. The writing is unwaveringly beautiful, and it is a story to be savoured.

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