Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Griffin's Castle (Jenny Nimmo)

Griffin's Castle
Jenny Nimmo
Fiction, YA Fantasy
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: In a world that rushes headlong toward the future, eleven-year-old Dinah looks only to the past - a far more interesting and stable place than her chaotic life, dragged by her drifting mother Rosalie from house to hovel, shelter to back room, across the UK. She's used to the loneliness by now, but she longs for a place to call home for more than a few months. When she arrives at their latest dwelling, a run-down old house loaned by Rosalie's latest boyfriend (and now employer) Gomer, Dinah is determined to stay. She even names the place: Griffin's Castle, after the crumbling stone griffin she finds in the front garden. But Gomer has other plans for the house and for Rosalie - plans that don't include Dinah. Then she finds a stone lioness from a castle wall following her home - and realizes she may have a way to defend herself and her newfound home, especially when more stone beasts come to the garden of Griffin's Castle. But are her shadowy stone companions protectors, or something more sinister?

REVIEW: I classified this as Fantasy, but in truth it edges closer to Horror. Dinah's a misfit who always seems to be in the wrong place or say the wrong thing, an inquisitive girl born to a mother who can't reliably remember to sign her up for school or buy groceries. It's not childish imagination or simple play that makes her imagine the past and future glories of Griffin's Castle so fiercely, but an unspoken rage and deep longing to belong somewhere, even if that somewhere's in another time. How is she able to summon the spirits of stone animals to life? Even she doesn't know, balanced as she is on that knife-edge between childhood and adulthood, between the power of magical thinking and cold reality. Having managed the feat, she learns that these beasts, much like her own building resentment and anger, aren't quite so easy to control as she first thought. Two boys from her new school, scrawny bookish Barry and oddball giant Jason, try in their own ways to help, each wrestling with their own flawed lives, but Dinah's so used to being on her own that she can't or won't understand that she doesn't have to go it alone... a blindness with potentially dire consequences. The tale has some interesting layers to it, with nobody being quite so flat and simple as they seem at first. With chilling overtones, the tale of Dinah's unraveling life and increasing reliance on, and imprisonment by, her shadowy stone companions unfolds in a struggle between past and present, isolation and companionship, even despair and hope. The ending's a little sudden and neat, but it ultimately fits the story. Considering that I found it for a buck at a clearance sale, I'm more than satisfied.

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