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Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1062

Author: David Almond (b. 1951)

First published: 1999

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Surrealist literature

Time of plot: 1990s

Locale: Stoneygate, United Kingdom

Principal characters

Christopher "Kit" Watson, a thirteen-year-old boy with the power to see those who have died

Allie Keenan , his lively friend; offers...

(The entire section contains 1062 words.)

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Author: David Almond (b. 1951)

First published: 1999

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Surrealist literature

Time of plot: 1990s

Locale: Stoneygate, United Kingdom

Principal characters

Christopher "Kit" Watson, a thirteen-year-old boy with the power to see those who have died

Allie Keenan, his lively friend; offers a more leveled-headed perspective on the games played by the small group of friends

Grandfather Watson, his grandfather; a widower in a declining mental state

John Askew, a moody and morbid thirteen-year-old boy who has lived in Stoneygate his entire life

Robert "Bobby" Carr, John's loyal friend and protector

The Story

Kit Watson finds his life upended when his parents decide to move to the small mining community of Stoneygate in order to take care of Kit's ailing grandfather. After the death of his grandmother, Kit's parents are concerned with the mental health of his grandfather. The beginning of the novel is a reflection on the events that take place throughout the novel, many of which involve surreal and supernatural encounters. The reader is introduced in this early scene to a game that is described as involving one person who is chosen from a group of willing participants to "die." That person is then left behind by the group and confined in the darkness until they can make their way out.

David Almond.

By Sara Jane Palmer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The narrative begins a week after Kit has arrived in Stoneygate. Alone at school, he is approached by John Askew. Askew voices his pleasure that Kit is from one of the oldest families in the community, and he gives Kit a charcoal portrait he has drawn of him. He also invites Kit into a secretive group of students, setting the tone for a darker side to the town by explaining that they play a game called Death. Kit is hesitant to become a part of the group, but during a gathering one day, he sees Allie, a neighbor and classmate, standing on the edge of the group. She introduces herself and they quickly become friends, walking with one another to school. She sees Kit as the perfect kid, always staying out of trouble and doing well in school, while she is constantly in trouble for her attitude and dress in school. Her perspective of Kit pushes him to be a part of the group of fringe students at the school, and he finally joins in and is inducted into the group.

Meanwhile, Kit's grandfather continues to tell Kit stories about working in the mine and the difficult lives of the men and women that lived in Stoneygate. Kit feels a connection stronger than just family bonds or memory. This connection is only further heightened for him when he begins taking part in the game, which is played in the old tunnels in the mine. Kit senses a presence in the darkness of the mine, but something even more powerful takes place when he is chosen to be the dead person in the game: a special power of his own is revealed, and Kit realizes that he is able to see people from the past who are long dead. This revelation is extremely upsetting to Kit because he does not understand what is happening and he assumes that he is going insane. The resulting anxiety from this belief causes him to lash out at others, and when he is confronted about his behavior, he reveals the secret of the game. Comforted by his grandfather, Kit is told that he is not alone with this gift. His grandfather has the same ability.

After Askew is expelled from school for his part in the game, he runs away from home and into the mines and convinces his friend Bobby Carr to take Kit to the mines so he can confront him. Both boys discover that they have the ability to see children that have died in the mine, and together they work through the issues in their lives, using the lives of those who had died to help make sense of their own. When they finally emerge, they have formed a close bond.

Critical Evaluation

Kit's Wilderness received mixed reviews when it was first published, with critics both praising and panning David Almond's use of surrealism and abstraction in developing Kit's character. A good deal of the novel is spent describing and creating the mood and tone of the story, which critics have noted as having a somewhat bleak, isolated feel. The reader encounters the isolation and darkness on the first page of the first chapter when Kit, who narrates the story, explains, "In Stoneygate there is a wilderness. It was an empty space between the houses and the river, where the ancient pit [the mine] had been." The language here and for most of the opening scenes in each chapter is simple and spare and effectively creates a sense of lonely imagery. At other times, however, especially when readers encounter Kit's thoughts and descriptions of the mine and the things in and around it, the language is elevated and more complex. For example, when Kit's grandfather explains the mine to his grandson, he advises Kit to "look deeper and you'll see it's riddled with tunnels. A warren. A labyrinth." This more difficult vocabulary and accompanying syntax does not take the intellect of the reader for granted, but at times it becomes abstract and difficult to comprehend.

As with many novels that deal directly with the mind and thoughts of one character, especially one who questions his or her sanity, the complex style can also be said to fit in well with the novel's content. While the style may at times prove difficult to access, Kit's Wilderness is a welcome addition to the young-adult genre. It is a novel not entirely plot driven that asks the reader to think about more than just the story line.

Further Reading

  • Almond, David. "Interview with David Almond." Interview by Linda Richards. January Magazine, Feb. 2002, januarymagazine.com/profiles/almond.html. Accessed 7 Jan. 2017.
  • Crown, Sarah. "A Life in Writing: David Almond." The Guardian, 20 Aug. 2010, www.theguardian.com/culture/2010/aug/21/david-almond-skellig-writing-books. Accessed 7 Jan. 2017.
  • Latham, Don. "Empowering Adolescent Readers: Intertextuality in Three Novels by David Almond." Children's Literature in Education, vol. 39, no. 3, Sept. 2008, pp. 213–26. Literary Reference Center, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=32679772&site=lrc-live. Accessed 27 Feb. 2017.
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