Originally reviewed 1st October, 2010
I don’t know what I expected from this book. It’s somewhat marketed as a mystery, I suppose, but that’s a little misleading. The central character, Gwenni, isn’t a precocious little child detective, a mini Sherlock Holmes. She’s a slightly odd child, with a lot of imagination and a funny way of putting things, and it’s about the complications in her life that begin with the disappearance of one of her neighbours.
She doesn’t actually find his body, or track down and confront his murderer, although she does figure things out. The story is much more about the emotional journey. It’s not a particularly light or fun one — it’s a hurting one, with a lot of pain and complex themes about mental illness. I found it a rather quiet story, oddly everyday, for all that there are horrible things happening.
One thing that bothered me was that the characters didn’t feel the right age. It was part of Gwenni’s oddness, I suppose, but she felt rather younger to me than she was supposed to be. I got used to it, but it definitely threw me off at first.
I loved how Welsh it all felt, at any rate. ‘Tada’ and ‘Mam’ and ‘Nain’ and ‘Taid’, and the turn of phrase, and… from the very first page, I recognised my own Welsh family in some of the characters and speech patterns.
I rarely offer advice about children reading books, since I was allowed a free hand with my parents’ books and in the library from the age of eight, and don’t believe it did me any harm — still, it’s not a comfortable, cosy book, and I don’t recommend it for young/immature teenagers. If I were to give this to a young person, I’d be at the ready to discuss it with them, I think, due to the domestic violence and mental illness that’s very much at the heart of the story.