Author : Linda Newbery
Date of Publication : Feb. 28, 2007
Publisher : Transworld Publ. Ltd UK; New Ed edition
No. of pages : 368
Sam Godwin gets the job of his dreams. As an artist-tutor to two beautiful teenage girls, he is paid comfortably and housed in Four Winds, a beautiful and most artistically inspired residence he has ever had the privilege to stay in. In this idyllic setting, he becomes fond of the governess, Charlotte Agnew, and of his two students, the quiet, gentle Juliana and the vibrant, mesmerizing Marianne. He also idealizes Ernest Farrow, his employer not just for his kind treatment but also for his impeccable taste.
Enamored of the house and especially of its sculptures of the North, South and East Winds, Samuel becomes obsessed with meeting the dismissed sculptor, Gideon Waring, and finding out about the missing West Wind.
But there is more to the house and the family of Four Winds than meets the eye. There is a darkness to their lives as Marianne is bothered by seeming madness and Juliana, a profound sadness.
When Sam tracks down Gideon the sculptor, he discovers horrifying and devastating secrets about the family that surprisingly, bear on the circumstances of his employment.
The Review :
I picked up this book as an inclusion to my YA reading this year because the cover boasts its win of The Costa Children’s Book Award in 2006. I do not know whether The Costa Awards is a reputable awarding body, because as far as awards go, I am simply not familiar with which hold prestige and which don’t.
Prestigious or not, I strongly disagree with the awarding body in its classification of this book. Three fourths of the way in, I was shocked to discover why this novel should not have been listed in the children’s category. This is not to say that the book isn’t good enough to be a winner. It is, but I just don’t agree with its classification.
A children’s book, this is not. Perhaps, the category “children” should be further defined by age groups so that books meant for those in their late teens wouldn’t be lumped in with those for early teens, preteens, or even younger. Set In Stone deals with issues which are quite disturbing, very adult in nature and require a more experienced mind to deal with these adequately. I cannot divulge the issues here as these would spoil your reading experience.
I believe this novel’s youngest readers should be at least in their mid teens because for the younger market, this book is far from wholesome.
Come to think of it though, I can’t say it is an adult novel either. The issues in question aren’t explored so much as it would have been in an adult novel. Nothing is graphic or that detailed. There is a lot of understatement so probably the reason for its classification as YA. But then again, it doesn’t read like most YA novels in that the writing is more mature in tone. So as it is neither this nor that, it stands in a twilight of its own making.
To Read Or Not To Read:
Despite its ambiguity, Set In Stone reads beautifully. Style-wise, Linda Newbery writes tautly and elegantly. Although refined, understated, and never graphic, her writing can evoke vivid imaginations and draw strong reactions from her readers.
The story is told from two perspectives, that of Samuel Godwin, the artist/tutor and Charlotte Agnew, the governess. As events progress, each of these characters take their turns telling things as they experience it so that the story, always in the first person perspective, gives the reader a view into each character’s minds as they encounter events. This way, readers get to be more intimate with the characters.
This author can also throw a sneaky punch. Here you are, three-fourths of the way, teased through a mildly interesting story, when suddenly, the jolt comes from nowhere. She throws out her first big secret and you are up and riveted. Shocked from your steady ho-hum pace, you are more than hooked, as you turn the pages fast and well into the night.
Newbery does know her techniques well. No wonder the award.
In A Nutshell:
Set In Stone is an exceptionally well crafted novel, a very absorbing but dark-toned read. Despite the YA classification, parents are best advised to read the story first before handing it over to their preteen or early teener. With a lot of potentially disturbing surprises, this one packs a wallop!
My Mark : Outstanding