Illustrated by David Dean
For ages 9+
This has to be one of the most highly anticipated middle grades for 2023 - a new novel from the Costa Book Awards winner for ‘The Voyage of the Sparrowhawk’, author Natasha Farrant! Very exciting! This is a BIG story. BIG because like one of my favourite cakes, there are layers upon layers of delicious storylines for the reader to immerse themselves in, but at the heart of it is a dollop of yummy chocolate ganache - unconditional love for one's family and friends. This is because at the core of the book is Ravenwood, a rural home by the sea, a family home that represents a place of refuge and adventure to those who need it no matter what stage of life they might be in, young or old, rich or poor. Ravenwood has a nature-nurture magic about it (with a sprinkle of Norse mythology).
Let’s just start by saying there is no ‘normal’ when it comes to families. These days the Victorian-era myth has been completely BUSTED… a family goal of two parents (male and female) with two children (boy and a girl preferably) is GONE. Quite frankly - good riddance. I’m so fed up of any kind of narrative in the media, overheard on the street or in a shop, in a pub, anywhere that professes that the aforementioned age old ideal is ‘what’s best’, especially when they say it’s ‘what’s best for the children’. Yikes! Pass me a paper bag! Hence, my gorgeous reader, I love this book all the more… let me tell you why…
About the book
Ravenwood is set in along the British rural coastline... one that was certainly invaded by Vikings at some point in history, for within its idyllic setting there is a 400 hundred year old tree named Yggdrasil or 'Ygg' for short (after the old Norse mythology world tree that supports the universe) and a Viking longboat upon the clifftop named 'Skidbládnir' (after the Norse mythology collapsible ship) skillfully crafted from a 'storm-felled oak' - a great place for children to play. There's a secluded cove too. In fact you might think an adventure set in such a dreamy location might mean that this is work of historical fiction. Not at all. We are slap bang in contemporary times and all the modern socio-familial dynamics you can throw at a story without it spoiling.
I'm going to keep with the cake analogy going...Think of your favourite sponge cake... Now, imagine the top layer represents three brothers in their 30s to 40s - Alex, Leo and Jack, born and raised at Ravenwood; the bottom layer represents three children unrelated by blood - Bea (daughter of Alex, 'fostered' by Leo), Leo and Noa; the filling is exceptionally gooey jam (strawberry please) and when you pull apart the layers, the fruity middle layer sort of sticks to the top layer or bottom layer, expanding and contracting.... well lovely readers, this that BIG story I mentioned earlier. I hope you're still with me!
Now 11 years old, Bea was dropped off by her father, Alex, in a moment of parenting despair with his brother Leo (a bachelor) at Ravenwood when she was just a young baby. A couple of days turn into forever, bar a handful of times when reunited for attempts at holidays abroad, which only lead to disaster. Bea grows up with Ravenwood as her home and Leo very much as her primary carer, a doting father-figure who loves her dearly. Her birth mother is far from maternal, unstable even, and Bea naturally mistrusts relationships and experiences many complex emotions throughout the story including feelings of anger, false hope, guilt, fear, and rejection. Flitting in and out of her life at unpredictable intervals, Alex and his wife leave Bea with deep mental scars which can be very triggering for her.
Haven-like in nature, and quite soon after Bea's 'fostering' by Leo, Ravenwood becomes home to another lost soul or two. Leo meets Martha with her baby Raffy in the village looking for somewhere to stay, and after staying at Ravenwood for a short while end up becoming part of the family as Leo and Martha fall in love.
So, these misfits have become a beautiful family of four, happy at home in Ravenwood, living a traditional outdoorsy life, swimming at the cove, climbing trees, picnics in the grounds... [Nicci: is this place on Air B&B by any chance? ]. Bea and Raffy are about to start secondary school after the school holidays. The Summer is here and for these two no-longer-year-6'ers as close a siblings, adventure awaits.
As the reader wends their way through the twists and turns of the book, author, Natasha Farrant's characters take turns to steer. This method lends to the complexity of the plot, perhaps a challenge for some less advanced readers in this age group to keep up without getting in a muddle, but wholly enjoyable for a confident reader. There's quite a bit of satisfaction in interpreting the narrative from more than two interchanging character's perspectives.
With Raffy wanting to spend as much quality time having fun with Bea before the daunting new secondary school starts in September, he's none-too-pleased when Leo brings home a girl called Noa to stay. Competition for Bea's attention! The friendship triangle between Bea, Raffy and Noa is extremely well played. The reader is invited to explore the children's inner thoughts and is given various clues along the way as to what each character's true intentions and temperament are, and perhaps what they might become to signify. Even more vexing than Noa's arrival is the invitation that arrives for Bea to go to Venice for a dazzlingly luxurious sailing trip holiday with her birth parents. Of course given everything that has happened in the past, Raffy can't imagine Bea would say yes... however, to his absolute disgust, she does. Such is Bea's naïve confusion and flawed sense of hope that her parents truly love her and want to be the 'real' family she belongs to. Whilst she is away, Raffy and his mother Martha go to London and he discovers family he never knew he had. The children are forced apart to go each on their own path of discovery about who and where they came from.
All of a sudden, life at Ravenwood, after 11 peaceful years becomes filled with drama and soon enough it is revealed that there is duplicitous behaviour afoot amongst the older brothers. Perhaps Noa's presence is a blessing after all, an outsider in need of refuge herself after her mother had to leave to go abroad suddenly, she sees everything in a different light, calculates the relationships she sees before her - their actions, words and feelings - and realises that she can help Bea and Raffy to glue all the mysterious goings on together to save Ravenwood!! Yes, the glue that holds this lovely family together comes apart only to reunite in the quest to save their beloved home, Ygg and the local community spirit, with a climactic eco-protest to boot.
'The Rescue of Ravenwood' deals with themes of abandonment, rejection, dysfunctional families, and (unofficial) foster parenting. It is a tale of bravery, a love of nature and how much enjoyment and creativity there is to be experienced outdoors, alone or with family or friends. It evokes the wish to create lasting memories and wonderful magical adventures. Bea goes to great lengths to escape from Venice to return to England to save Ravenwood and what it represents - somewhere safe, filled with love for those who have nowhere to call home and no one to call family - a valuable lesson in sharing something good or special in our lives with those who are in need.
A rewarding read and another triumph for Natasha Farrant.
About the creators
Natasha Farrant (author)
Natasha Farrant is the author of the Costa Award winning novel, Voyage of the Sparrowhawk, bestselling middle-grade novel, The Children of Castle Rock, the acclaimed Bluebell Gadsby series and Carnegie-longlisted and Branford Boase-shortlisted YA historical novel The Things We Did For Love. She was shortlisted for the Queen of Teen Award 2014. She lives in London with her family.
David Dean (illustrator)
David Dean has illustrated around 140 covers over the course of 21 years, having graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University with a BA in Illustration and an MA in Communication Design. Known for his exotic and colourful work, David works in a room surrounded by books from many different cultures, from which he finds inspiration.
Grab a copy
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Praise for 'The Rescue of Ravenwood'
'Compelling, joyous, tear-jerking and delightful.' The Sunday Times
'A modern classic.' Guardian
'It deserves prizes.' New Statesman
Publication date: 23 February 2023
Also by Natasha Farrant for children aged 9+:
WINNER - COSTA CHILDREN'S BOOK AWARD
THE TIMES AND SUNDAY TIMES CHILDREN'S BOOK OF THE YEAR
...and many more available on my online store!!
*reviewed from proof via advance reading copy provided by the publisher
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