CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 27 . . . . March 16, 2012
How to Make a Golem and Terrify People.
Alette J. Willis.
Edinburgh, UK: Floris Books (Distributed in Canada by Tri-Fold Books and by Mandragore), 2011.
239 pp., trade pbk., $11.50.
Grades 5-7 / Ages 10-12.
Review by Daphne Hamilton-Nagorsen.
I abandoned my homework, grabbed my sketchbook and pastels and went out the back, hoping my special treatment at school would last another day. I dragged a musty old folding chair into the middle of the lawn, sat down and started to sketch the garden, the wall, the boarded-up door and the trees behind it.
Drawing usually absorbed me completely. Everything else would melt away while I worked at getting a picture just right. Trouble was, this picture wouldn’t come out the way I wanted. The wall turned out uneven; the rocks jumbled together as if they were about to fall down. The boards Dad had nailed over the door looked like toothpicks that a baby could snap in two. The trees looked gnarled and sinister. Even the friendly old beech that grew less than a metre from the back of our wall came out looking sinister in my picture. And the bit of lawn I’d drawn was uneven and splotchy, as if creatures lurked underneath, churning up the soil.
I’d hoped by drawing I could make the garden and park my own again, but fear had crept into the picture.
Shy and timid, 13-year-old Edda lives up to her nickname of “Mouse”. She would like to become Edda the Brave, but reality always intrudes, and she goes back to being Edda the Mouse. On her thirteenth birthday, Edda’s house is broken into, and all her birthday presents are stolen or damaged, along with many other family possessions. While her parents talk about moving to a different neighbourhood, Edda decides it is time for her to become Edda the Brave and protect her house.
The next day, Edda meets Michael Scot, a newcomer to the neighbourhood. Michael is a very strange boy, with access to a locked tower in the local nature reserve, and a pickled toad that he talks to. Michael also claims that he can only be seen when he wants to be. He agrees to help Edda protect her house and tells Edda they need to gather the materials for her to create a golem.
Edda’s fears do not go away after the golem is created. She hears noises in the woods. Strange marks appear in her yard, and dead animals start turning up. Edda realizes that what she has created will “protect” her yard from anything and everything, not just burglars. She is determined to stop the golem, but Michael has disappeared. Edda finally enlists the help of her best friend, Lucy, and Euan, a local bully, to stop the golem, but she will need all of her courage to do this.
How to Make a Golem and Terrify People is primarily a story of facing your fears and finding your courage, with Edda’s inner turmoil set against events in the external world. Alette Willis has crafted a well-paced story that will draw readers into Edda’s world. The use of the first-person narration is excellent for a story so focussed on inner conflict. Willis does a good job of balancing the different elements of the story, including the golem, school life and home life.
The characters are well presented and act their age. Edda is instantly recognizable as the shy girl at school, and many readers will quickly identify with her and her fears. The supporting characters of Lucy and Euan are very solid characters, and readers will be able to visualize them. Michael is a very mysterious character, as he is intended to be. Alette Willis does a good job of raising questions about who (or what) Michael really is, without taking away the mystery by answering those questions fully.
How to Make a Golem and Terrify People is set in Edinburgh, in the Corstophine Hill area. The setting is only minimally described, but there is enough to be able to visualize Edda’s house, the nature preserve behind it, and the tower, and no more than that is necessary.
How to Make a Golem and Terrify People is a quirky and interesting book that will be enjoyed by a wide variety of readers.
Daphne Hamilton-Nagorsen is a graduate of the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies at UBC, Vancouver, BC.
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