Almond, David. Kit’s Wilderness. Laurel-Leaf, 1999. 229p. Grades 6-12. Magical Realism. (2001 Printz Award).
Thirteen year old Kit and his family have returned to the English mining town of Stoneygate to care for his elderly grandfather who is in the latter stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Upon his arrival, Kit meets Allie Keenan and John Askew, both fellow members of the “Old Families” and players of the secretive game Death. Kit is initiated into their group and undergoes the “Death transformation” all the while wondering about the state of Askew’s mental health and the steady decline of his grandfather. Filled with mystery and suspense, this tale walks the line between reality and fantasy asking its readers to suspend disbelief and get lost in the nuanced, multi-dimensional world David Almond creates.
Thoughts- I had done some preliminary research for my project on the Printz Award before beginning this book, and honestly, I was prepared to hate it. I had read all these critiques saying it was convoluted, overly complex, ambiguous (and not in a good way), and totally inaccessible to teen readers. I sat down prepared just to push my way through it, and four hours later, I came up for air completely entranced by Almond’s atmospheric, creep-tastic story. In short, I love love loved everything about Kit’s Wilderness…well, everything except that title. It was many of the things critics complained about—complex, ambiguous, sometimes confusing—but for me, all those things worked together to create this almost otherworldly, fable-like story that just swept me away.
As to the argument that it is inaccessible to teen readers, I have to say that I can definitely see where the critics are coming from. Almond demands a lot from his readers, and I frequently found myself wondering what was real and what was fantasy in this book. Were Kit and John Askew seeing actual ghosts? What exactly was going on with the Death game? This high level of ambiguity and reader participation is not for every reader, and I do think it limits the readership of this book quite a bit. Despite this, the English teacher in me just can’t let go of how beautifully written (even at just the sentence-level) and layered this book is; I know that the right readers will be just as enraptured by it as I was.