This is a gorgeous book, full of atmospheric description and wistful melancholy exploring the range of reasons to make the decision to flee your homelands from war to controlling and dystopian society for a better life.
It totally deserved being selected as the Times Children’s Book of the Week 09/06/19 (Paywall) because it’s thought provoking and utterly compelling, I started reading and was unable to put it down until the very last word which was when I realised it was almost 2am! Fabulous.
The tale begins establishing the life of a young girl and her Granda who is her sole carer since her mother fled over the sea and never came back for Bonnie.
One day whilst bunking school and foraging to supplement their meagre allowances on the beach Bonnie comes across a boat and a strange boy which begins a series of decisions under growing pressure from the Border Guards that culminate in Bonnie and her grandfather joining young Ish in the boat and travelling over the sea to the Lighthouse to begin a journey further away.
‘Where did you go today?’ Granda spoke at last. ‘We must be more careful Bonnie. They’ve started counting people in and out.’ His hands shook…
This clever story is part of a growing number of Middle Grade dystopias such as The Middler and Where the River Runs Gold which focus on individual struggles, lives and choices instead of a chosen one rebellion narrative like YA Dystopian books tended to do. I must say I am LOVING this trend and this book is just a beautiful piece of craftsmanship and love
The story centres around the decision to flee from a society that has become prescriptive and restrictive of rights and freedoms along with a boy who has crashed upon their shores is holding up a lens to the struggles we are facing in society today. With political, economic and social news seeming bleaker and controlling with every cycle it seems that tales such as 1984 and The Handmaids Tale are frighteningly less fictional than they were even 4-5 years ago.
However this story is full of love and hope for Bonnie and Ish’s circumstances and decision to flee for a better life making it a powerful tool to build empathy and compassion for others especially those displaced whether by choice, necessity or force.
But it’s not proselytising, amidst the refugee narrative at its core there is a heartfull story about a girl who so desperately wants something better and takes her chances whether it be refusing to be indoctrinated at the school, trespassing onto the beach to scavenge for mollusc and seaweed or clambering into a rowboat- even if it means losing everything.
Bonnie saw at once what he meant to do; he’d get the boat into the sea, he’d float it away from the beach and all the hopes and dreams she’d pinned on the boat would float away too.
Bonnie is a wonderful girl, weary by the restrictions but with a fierceness and spirit for adventure. She pushes against the rules for weak spots and clambers through when she finds a break whether it be stalking the surf for extra food to pretending she’s too contagious to go to school and finally hiding a poorly refugee boy in her shed.
The hardships of growing up in such a society have been tempered by the deep love and acceptance of her Granda who himself burns with fury at what the society has become, the two being each other’s only rock to remain and fight to thrive.
Ish’s promise of something different, having travelled across land and sea searching fires the loss within Bonnie, the craving for her mother and the relationship lost to the sea in hope of a better life. Ish’s presence and the tightening of rules creates a chokehold on Bonnie and Granda’s tolerance and is the straw that finally breaks the camels back.
That moment she found the boat on the beach, everything changed forever.
The boat had called to her.
It had woken her up.
It had made her yearn for change and adventure, a bigger world.
The boy was a part of all this too.
The profound loss that occurs is eventually of everything Bonnie has known but the tenderness towards those freedoms makes us consider not the price of freedom, but the value of it instead. Something often forgotten about in topical discussions.
Overall this is an incredibly well crafted and thoughtful book that asks us what we hold dear and what is valuable enough to risk everything for.
The House Of Light by Julia Green is published by Oxford University Press. I originally received this book for review on another website, this has not affected my opinion.