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.
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.
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:
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.