Friday, 6 November 2009
Medina Hill - Sally Nicholls
I'm writing this blog a day early in order to take part in the blog tour of Trilby Kent's 'Medina Hill', which came out last month. Trilby's book will be travelling across blogs in Britain, Canada and America, receiving reviews (wonderful idea, Trilby) and today it's visiting the Awfully Big Blog Adventure.
'Medina Hill' is the story of eleven-year-old Dominic, who has suffered from selective mutism since his mother became ill. In the summer of 1935, Dominic and his sister Marlo are sent to stay with their Uncle Roo in Cornwall while their mother is in hospital. As with many classic children's books, we suspect that everything is about to change ...
Everything changes through the unlikely medium of a small green book entitled 'Incredible Adventures for Boys: Colonel Lawrence and the Revolt in the Desert'. Dominic quickly becomes entranced with Lawrence of Arabia and dreams of imitating his hero - of becoming part of a strange culture, being accepted into a foreign tribe and freeing them. He gets his chance when he meets Sancha, a Romany girl whose family are in danger of being turfed off their land. Can Dominic - like Lawrence of Arabia before him - overcome his shortcomings and liberate his new friends?
'Medina Hill' reads very much like a traditional children's book. All the elements from the books of my childhood are there - the ginger beer, the 'bathes' in seaside coves, the gypsies in 1930s caravans. Trilby Kent has worked hard to avoid stereotypes, however. Her Romany are well-researched and interesting - their romance is still there, but the hardness of their life and the complexity of their language and customs are emphasised. Similarly, the parts dealing with T. E. Lawrence are fascinating - we learn that he was originally refused entry into the army, and that his usefulness to Britain stemmed not from his military might but his knowledge of Arabic. The characters are great too - Dominic's sister Marlo is very well-observed, and I would have loved Uncle Roo's artists colony as a child.
There are times where the storytelling falters - the end is a little too neat and predictable and the pace a little too fast - we are told about Marlo's friendship with the Reverend, for example, rather than see it develop. I would have liked Dominic's problems to be a little harder to solve - the main quest is acheived in several chapters and the hidden treasure found in the first place he looks.
All in all, however, this was a great read, and one which made me interested to find out more about Lawrence and the Romany. Lawrence is an inspiring hero for this age group, and I loved that Dominic's victory is given as much weight for the reader as his hero's. A clever, richly textured book, both for modern children and traditionalists like me.