Scarlet Ibis by Gill Lewis
Animal stories aren't generally my thing but — if there was a book to change my mind — it’s Gill Lewis’s Scarlet Ibis.
The narrative is centred around Scarlet and her younger brother Red who escape from the troubles of their concrete block of flats into dreams of being alone together in the Caroni Swamp. Red is fascinated by feathers, which he collects, and these serve as a comfort and solace to him throughout the book. Whilst Lewis weaves facets of a more general 9-12 narrative into her book; the unconventional family threatened by Social Services, meddlesome yet ultimately caring neighbours, the perspective of the story and beauty of Lewis’s language transcends the confines of the genre. Scarlet cares for her depressed mum and autistic brother until disaster separates them. She must then fight, with the help of some unexpected friends, to piece her family back together.
“A new life. A lie. A new me. Is this what happens when you step into someone else’s life and leave behind your own? What if I'm asked about my family? Do I write Red out of my new life too?” (91)
A powerful, coming-of-age story about hope and understanding. Lewis’s writing is heartfelt and compelling throughout.
Best bits: The things that Gill Lewis leaves unsaid — her subtlety really gives this book heart.
Worst bits: Suspension of disbelief sometimes goes a little far and events unfurl in improbable patterns. In places the action just feels like it wouldn't actually happen that way.
A fantastic book for children of the targeted 9+ age bracket (and adults too) - read if you love Michael Morpurgo.
Keywords: adventure, heart, care, determination, strong female lead, diversity.
Buy the book from the Oxford University Press website here