Skellig – review

By David Almond, 1998
Reviewed by Virginia M. Mohlere

SkelligHere are the bones of David Almond’s Skellig:

‘¢ Michael’s family recently moved into a ramshackle house with a crumbling garage
‘¢ Michael’s infant sister is desperately ill
‘¢ Michael and his parents are trying to keep up their spirits and routine
‘¢ Mina, the girl across the street, is a home-schooler with a passion for birds, William Blake, and secrets
‘¢ There is a being in the garage who seems to have wings

I read this book in the Cleveland International Airport and on a flight from Cleveland to Houston. In the middle of the terminal noise, the plane engines’ shriek, the book made a bubble of quiet that I could inhabit. Skellig is about uncertainty, about fear and hope, without one bit of hyperbole.

Do you know any toddlers? I love people that age, as they realize that they are separate beings with a small measure of control over their environment. Part of that process includes feeling things for which they as-yet have no language, and you can watch them get buffeted by their own rogue waves of unnameable emotion that busts out of them all at once.

Michael is a little like that, in that he is a young boy (I’m getting in the 10-12 range) with a fear he can’t find the words for underlying the possibility that his new baby sister might die. The actions that he takes are beautiful illuminations of grief: creeping into her room at night to lay his hand on her back, playing poorly on the soccer field, fighting with his friends.

He retreats and creates his own bubble, consisting of the crumbling house, the strange girl Mina, and Skellig, the thing in the garage. Mina has her own secrets — a dead father, a boarded-up house — but she anchors Michael into the place of his new home, the birds that surround them, and an idea of poetry.

Michael doesn’t waste time brooding over things. Like many boys his age, he is mostly action. Unable to take action to help his sister, he helps Skellig even when it protests, because he must do something to help. That stubbornness becomes a gift that lifts Michael up from his own fear and in so doing lifts those around him.