Posted by Venus on Saturday, January 10, 2015
Labels: intermediate book review
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: August 26, 2014
Adrian is nearly thirteen, but you wouldn't know it if you looked at him. Asthmatic, small for his age, and with albinism, most people in his village see him as useless or at the very least, sent from the devil. Even his father, a bowyer, doesn't think Adrian is strong enough to be a bowyer's apprentice. When the Scots invade England though, Adrian sees his opportunity to prove his worth. He follows his best friend Hugh into battle, bow on his back, but war as not as glorious as he thought it would be and finding his friend even more difficult.
Set in 1327, Kathryn Erskine does a fantastic job of rooting her readers in this medieval world that almost feels like a fantasy realm. Medieval language is peppered throughout the book, not too heavily as to be unreadable for intermediate readers, but enough to feel rooted solidly in this world. Like Karen Cushman, Erskine has done her research, but doesn't get so bogged down in the details that she loses the story.
As for the characters themselves, Adrian is wholly unlikable in the beginning. He is selfish, self-centered, rude, judgemental, thoughtless, jealous, and impulsive. Only twelve-years-old, he has thoroughly convinced himself of the joys of battle and listens to no one who says anything to the contrary. It is no wonder that his father and horrible "Good" Aunt worry over him. Between the albinism, asthma, and stunted growth, it seems that Adrian's life choices are very limited. That is the heart of the story though. This is a coming of age story, with a young boy discovering what he truly is good at and getting some sense knocked into him along the way. The horrors of battle do that, but there are also the characters of Hugh his best friend and Bess, Adrian's cousin. Hugh is quick to point out Adrian's attitude toward his cousin is wrong and as the story progresses, Hugh proves time and again what a wonderful caring and kind person he is. Don't lose heart though, by the end Adrian is well on his way to becoming a much better person.
My only criticism is that although Adrian is small for his age, his Aunt tells everyone that he is probably done growing. I get that this is 1327, but surely puberty started around the same time if not later than it does today? It seemed rather foolish (although Good Aunt is a fool) to claim that a twelve-year old had reached the peak of their physical maturity. I also wish there was a map included in the book, but lucky me, there is always Google for that.
A solid historical fiction from an interesting time with a solid character arc. Bonus points for disability diversity. Can you even think of another kids book that featured a character with albinism?