Written and illustrated by: Chris Priestley
Published in the UK by: Barrington Stoke, 15th April 2017
BEHIND THE MASK
The first of three new releases from the macabre mind of Anything That Isn’t This author and illustrator Chris Priestley to fill children and young adults with equal measures of fear and wonder in 2017, this dyslexic-friendly “easy reader” from publishers Barrington Stoke may be the shortest and most simplistic, but Flesh and Blood does not suffer for its ease of accessibility.
At just 121 well-spaced and yellow-tinged pages it is a diminutive and pacey World War II-set novella about sibling evacuees Bill and Jane, who find themselves back in Blitz-era London after Jane complains of rural life in Suffolk with their aunt and uncle. Infuriated by his little sister’s actions, Bill secretly wishes for a brother instead.
Following a bombing in their street, a young boy is rescued from a burning building after Bill alone hears his cries. With his identity a mystery and rendered mute following the trauma, the badly-injured burn victim is generously taken in by Bill and Jane’s mother, Mary, and Bill thinks his wishes have been answered.
However, the orphan in the face mask isn’t the playful and brotherly bundle of joy Bill hoped for. In fact, as time goes on and a full recovery is ruled out, the bandaged boy’s eerie silence and tendency to stare with his one visible eye grows ever-more unnerving, and Jane is outright terrified by their anonymous new houseguest…
Aimed to encourage struggling readers aged 10+, Flesh and Blood is neither taxing or out-and-out terrifying. However, you are drawn in by the curious mystery surrounding the faceless child’s identity and motifs, and even at my age I was conjuring up ever-more outrageous theories as the story progressed!
Priestley doesn’t drown the zippy pace with an abundance of period detail, but his shadowy pencil drawn chapter headers do aide the historical prose and evoke a suitable sense of strangeness. While I was eager for a truly pitch-black moment of horror which never would have got past the publishers, the concluding twist/reveal is fittingly spine-tingling without spoon-feeding the youthful target demographic.
CR@B’s Claw Score: