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Sweet savage

I did something yesterday I haven't done in a long time. I read through a novel, finished it, turned back to the beginning and read it all the way through a second time. It was that good. My favorite 13-year-old had read it first. She liked it and told me that it was a sweet story. A little odd. But sweet.

A story about a boy who kills strangers and eats them is sweet? Yes, The Savage is, in the hands of masters like David Almond and Dave McKean.

The Savage cover

This is a story of loss. Of raw emotions told in a safe way. At no point did I fear for the protagonist, Blue Baker. David Almond showed me Blue’s home and family, his school, and the people who are looking out for him. And although a bully harasses Blue, and his father dies unexpectedly, I am told from the get go that all will turn out okay in the end.

After his father’s death, Blue is asked by a social worker to write down what he feels. But that does him no good. Instead, he begins to write and draw about the savage. A boy.

He had no famly and he had no pals and he didn't know where he come from and he culdn't talk and he lived on beries and roots and rabbits and stuff like old pies that he pinched from the bins at the back of the Greenacres Rest Home. He lived in a cave under the rooined chapel. His wepons were old kitchen nives and forks and an ax that he nicked from Franky Finnigin's alotment.
If anybody ever seen him he chased them and cort  them and killed them and ate them and chucked their bones down an aynshent pit shaft.
He was savage.
He was truely wild.

We follow the savage's story, and his story intertwines with Blue's. But ultimately, it's Blue's story. He tells us:
 
The thing is, I've never really been one of the hard lads. I know how to swagger about when I need to, like most lads do, but like most of us, I'm just dead soft inside.

And it becomes clear, as the savage's story is told, that in the hands of a boy, dead soft inside, the savage ultimately cannot be one of the hard lads. And so, despite the knives, and axe, and forks, and raw meat, the story is sweet. Yes, it is powerful. It is lean. It taps the fundamentals of love and loss. But it is a true boy's story. And it is heartwarming.

McKean's haunting pictures are a necessary part of this story. They bring the savage to life. They accentuate and temper his wildness. They fill Almond's words. They are beautiful, disturbing, yet comforting, too. Because though the savage is wild, he is also a boy. Just like Blue. Which makes the story's warmth possible.

Yes this is a story about death. But it is also about life. And as my favorite 13-year-old said, it is a really good book.

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