Tuesday, October 1, 2019

October's Book of the Month--Sweep

Hello! October’s Book of the Month is the middle grade golem story SWEEP, THE STORY OF A GIRL AND HER MONSTER, by Jonathan Auxier. He previously wrote the very excellent—and creepy--The Night Gardener, and I think he’s got a worthy follow up here in SWEEP.

Life was never easy, but little Nan slept soundly as long as the Sweep was by her side. He’d raised her from a baby, and they ended every day with their special song: With brush and pail and soot and song!/A sweep brings luck all season long! But, one night when she’s just six years old, the Sweep disappears without a word, leaving behind only his “sacred” sweep hat, his coat, and “a strange lump of flickering char.”

With nowhere else to turn, and because she needs a master to get work, Nan indentures herself to the hateful Wilkie Crudd. One day, while cleaning the chimneys in a school for girls, Nan becomes stuck. Roger, a rival sweep who also works for Crudd, decides to use a deadly method-- “the Devil’s Nudge”—to get her out or kill her in the trying. He lights a fire in the coals below, “and then Nan Sparrow burned.”

Except she doesn’t die. She wakes in a crawl space, saved by her strange lump of char, which moves! In fact, this char is a creature, a “golem," wakened by Roger’s fire, and she feels sure it was left by the Sweep to protect her. Determined not to go back to Wilkie’s, Nan and the char, now appropriately named Charlie, find a place to live in an old abandoned mansion. Nan and her golem live well enough, but she still feels responsible for Wilkie’s other sweeps (except Roger!), and Wilkie remains determined to make her pay for her disappearance. Trouble ensues when Nan tries to improve life for all the sweeps, but in the process she learns about friends, family, and what it means to "save [yourself] by saving others.” Have a tissue or two for the sigh-and-tear-worthy ending.

This story, which illuminates the difficulty of life for young orphans, and the poor in general, in Victorian London, has just the right touch of magic to make it perfect for its middle grade audience. Nan is a plucky heroine who finds help where she needs it: in other kind but destitute street kids, in a lonely teacher, in her own hard work—and certainly in the wondrous gifts left to her by her beloved Sweep.


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