When ten-year-old Liam moves house to be closer to his dementia-suffering grandma, he's thrown into an unfamiliar place, with a family that seems to be falling apart. Liam doesn't remember what his grandma was like before she became ill. He only knows the witch-like old woman who snaps and snarls and eats her birthday cards. He wants to fix it, but he can't.
Walking his dog one day, Liam discovers an old stone gargoyle in a rundown church, and his life changes in impossible ways. The gargoyle is alive. It moves unseen in the night, acting out Liam's stories. And stories can be dangerous things...
Seeking revenge against the bullies at his new school, Liam tells a story about the gargoyle attacking them. When one of them ends up in hospital, a regretful Liam vows never to go near the gargoyle again.
But his grandma's illness is getting worse, his mum isn't coping, and his sister is skipping school... What if the gargoyle is the only thing that can save Liam's family?
I've said this before, but one of the best things about being a book blogger is the way you quite often end up reading truly amazing books that may otherwise have slipped by the wayside. I'm not sure whether Stonebird by Mike Revell would have suffered this fate as the cover artwork by Frances Castle is stunning and grabs your attention immediately, but I am still really grateful to those fab people at Quercus for sending me a copy as my reading life is all the better for it.
Stonebird is one of those magical books that has true crossover potential, with something special to offer for children, teens and adults. In my mind it falls into the same category as books like Wonder by RJ Palacio, Smart by Kim Slater, A Boy Called Hope by Lara Williamson and Brilliant by Roddy Doyle. These are all books that deal with real world issues that often get overlooked in children's literature, including disability, family break-up, depression and mental health. Stonebird joins this stellar list with its gentle and touching exploration of dementia and how a family copes, or doesn't, when a loved one is slipping away from them.
Liam struggles to cope with understanding his gran's illness, his mother's inability to cope and her use of alcohol to dull the anguish she feels, and his sister's seemingly selfish indifference to everything that is going on around her. As the new boy at school he is also an instant target for the resident bullies, so all in all life seems pretty grim for him right now. Add all this together and Stonebird really was not at all what I expected when I picked it up. From the cover I expected it to have a much greater fantasy element, a story about a boy striking up a friendship with a magical gargoyle, with a shared love of stories. Sort of a modern day Neverending Story type book. However, the gargoyle makes very few appearances, and the 'relationship' Liam has with it is not at all fluffy and friendly. Ultimately, Stonebird is actually a contemporary story with a fantasy thread woven through it. It was also a lot darker than I expected, but it is a darkness that is needed given the themes it covers, and the story is all for better for it.
Stonebird would be a great read for any 10+ child, but especially one who is experiencing similar issues at home. It is the kind of book that would make a great class reader, enabling children to be involved in discussion about dementia, bereavement, and depression leading to alcoholism. I know I'm not alone in loving this book and many of my fellow bloggers have mentioned to me their love for it too, and I really hope that it is finding its way into the hands of young readers as well.