Friday, 18 January 2013

Review: North of Nowhere by Liz Kessler

Family tale with a hint of magic for 9+ readers 

I really enjoyed this story and would probably (if it were for adults) class it as magical realism: there is an element of magic or the impossible in the plot, but it isn't a fantasy world. This pitch-perfect family story is fully rooted in a reality that will be completely recognisable to readers, with a plot that is ultimately focused on an intriguing mystery of a magical nature.

Mia, the protagonist, had my sympathy from the start. After looking forward to her half term break, she finds at the last minute that they have to spend it at her grandparents' pub in an isolated coastal town (without even a mobile signal, never mind the internet!), as her beloved grandad has gone missing. Her struggles to be supportive to her mum and her difficult grandma, despite her disappointment and boredom, are entirely convincing and will enable readers in the target age group to easily connect with her.

The story is largely told in Mia's lively voice, in the past tense. The opening passage, telling us that what will follow is unbelievable and yet true, works to pique our curiosity and prepare us for the fantasy element. She shares the narration with Frank, whose occasional chapters mean that we are aware of what is happening (or at least that something unusual is happening) before Mia. A third narrative voice is also present, as Mia finds and reads the diary of a girl who signs herself "D".

Plotwise, this novel is tight and skillful. While we may, as readers, have some idea of what is happening, the precise ins and outs are unlikely to be clear to the target reader until they are revealed. At the same time, this is beautifully managed so as to be a delicious mystery rather than a frustrating uncertainty.

Another high point, for me, is the setting. Liz Kessler captures the small coastal village and the vagaries of the sea beautifully. The need to be aware of tides, the fishermen's reliance on nature and the ever-present and very real risks from storms are clear. This is also the focus of the beautiful cover.

All in all, I'd definitely recommend this to readers of 9 and over (including adults). I enjoyed this book immensely. I'd also recommend checking out the blog tour to celebrate publication of this lovely novel (see listings below on the right). Liz will be here on the 1st February with more about her inspiration for the book and about the place that sparked it all off.

The blurb says:

The sleepy seaside village of Porthaven hides a mystery

Mia's grandad has vanished and nobody knows why. When Mia and her mum go to support her grandma, Mia makes friends with local girl, Dee. But why does Dee seem so out of reach? Why does she claim to be facing violent storms when Mia sees only sunny skies? 

And can Mia solve the mystery and find her grandad before time and tide forever wash away his future? 

A night of storms. A lifetime of secrets. A week to find the truth.


Publishing 24 January by Orion Children's Books
Find more information on the publisher's website
My grateful thanks to the publisher for sending me a proof to review


  1. This is interesting. Thanks for another helpful review. I might read it this year. I'm continuously searching for recommendable children's and middle-grade books because it seems that they are my cup of tea for this year.

    Nancy | Simple Clockwork |

  2. This one looks and sounds beautiful. I'm thinking of reading it together with my son soon!


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