David Almond’s The Savage, published by Candlewick in 2008, is a story within a story about grief.
The work’s main character is Blue. His father died suddenly of a heart attack when Blue was young. Blue’s school counselor, Mrs. Molloy, encourages him to explore his feelings through writing. At first, he does not find that this helps. To cope with his grief, Blue eventually starts drawing and writing a comic book story about a wild boy living in the woods. Real life and the comic story begin to intersect.
Blue’s story is a reflection of his inner turmoil not only with his grief but with the harassment he receives from Hopper, a bully. Blue dreams of the Savage, a character in his comic, beating up Hopper. On the very next day, Hopper arrives at school with a split lip and a black eye.
The boy, or Savage, in the comic book story is a killer who eats people who get too close. He behaves like a wild dog and has no language skills. One day, Blue leaves school and meets the Savage boy in the woods. Inside a case, Blue finds pictures of Blue, Jess, and their parents.
The loss of Blue's father is heartbreaking and a thematic element of Blue's imagination. Jess’s younger sister and his mother sit in Blue’s room one day. Jess was sobbing and missing their father. To cheer her up, Blue’s mom tells Jess that Blue has been writing a story. Blue shares his stories with his sister, Jess, and his mother. He dances and growls until he makes them both laugh. Jess begins giggling through her tears. Eventually Jess falls off to sleep. This passage reflects Almond’s delicate skill in dramatizing family relationships amid the overwhelming sense of grief.
The Savage has started some debate about categorizing the novel. Blue’s drawings are included in the novel. Is it a graphic novel? Almond does include only one speech balloon and there are no traditional comic panels. The text and the drawings interact throughout the novel.
Critics point out that parents might be wary of a book with such violence; however, most early fairly tales include violence on a similar level. One critic from School Library Journal points out that a little darkness is healthy.