There he was, below the bridge, half-naked, eyes blazing. He had a pair of burning torches. He ran them back and forth across his skin. He sipped from a bottle, breathed across a torch, and fire and fumes leapt from his lips. The air was filled with the scent of paraffin. He breathed again, a great high spreading flag of fire. He glared. He roared like an animal.
That summer, life had seemed perfect for Bobby Burns. But now it's autumn and the winds of change are blowing hard. Bobby's dad is mysteriously ill. His new school is a cold and cruel place. And worse: nuclear war may be about to start. But Bobby has a wonder-working friend called Ailsa Spink. And he's found the fire-eater, a devil called McNulty. What can they do together on Bobby's beach? Is it possible to work miracles? Will they be able to transform the world?
A stunning novel from the author of the modern children's classic Skellig - winner of the Carnegie Medal and the Whitbread Children's Book Award. David Almond is also winner of the 2010 Hans Christian Andersen award.
Although this distinctively British novel contains a dark quality and mystical overtone that will be familiar to Almond's (Skellig; Kit's Wilderness) fans, the story's underpinnings are very much grounded in reality. In September 1962, Bobby Burns enters a new, elite school (for which students must qualify by exam) in his coal-mining community outside Newcastle. Bobby's reflections, enhanced by powerful images of nature ("And all the time the careless stars looked down and showed how tiny we were and how insignificant we were and how maybe we just didn't matter at all"), convey the young protagonist's uncertainties and a sense of the world itself being on the cusp of change. Bobby is worried about his survival at school, where corporal punishment is practiced indiscriminately, and how this "opportunity" may affect his future. He is also concerned about the well-being of his father, who has become ill, as well as new acquaintance Mr. McNulty, a half-crazed fire-eater who performs various forms of torture upon himself in exchange for a few tossed coins. Bobby's growing tensions mirror the fears of the townspeople as the Bay of Pigs drama plays out, drawing families, friends and strangers together for a brief but intense period of time. Besides providing a moving portrait of a boy's growing pains, the author expresses the camaraderie within a working-class community and the love within Bobby's family. Sensitive readers will marvel at Almond's ability to show, not tell, with his highly introspective at times enigmatic writing style. Ages 8-up.