Presenting another piece of middle-grade fiction that I couldn’t put down 🙂
Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster, by Jonathan Auxier
published in 2018 by Amulet Books
344 pages + Author’s and Historical Notes
Masterful storyteller Jonathan Auxier weaves his word-magic so irresistibly that within three pages of this novel I was utterly enthralled, fastbound to the story and fate of Nan Sparrow.
Auxier immerses us in a rich, tactile experience of a Dickensian London, peopled with homely, endearing characters, as well as several scalawags with hearts nastier than cold porridge, and one naive, charming golem. His seamless flow of well-crafted prose transports us right into this neighborhood and the monumentally harsh lives of young chimney sweeps like Nan and her chums.
Nan’s only guardian, The Sweep, vanished five years ago leaving her bereft and at the mercy of a cruel master named Wilkie Crudd. Although she’s the best of Crudd’s sweeps — slight, smart, nimble, and fast — one terrible day she becomes stuck in a chimney, then caught in a deadly chimney fire. It seems inevitable that she’ll perish. Instead she awakens to find herself in an abandoned attic with a new companion, a small, ungainly creature called a golem, formed of soot, yet enlivened mysteriously to become Nan’s new, staunch protector.
Creating a new life for themselves, hidden away from both the hysteria Charlie-the-golem inevitably incites in London’s streets and the savagery of Nan’s former master, these two discover the aching beauty of self-sacrificial love, the revitalizing power that comes from deeply, relentlessly caring for another person.
The golem has its roots in Jewish tradition. Auxier follows this thread to touch on anti-Semitism and Jewish themes of deliverance, intriguing additions to the story. There’s a relatively unflinching exposure to the dreadful conditions faced by child chimney sweeps and the antipathy of their London patrons, so use your discretion with sensitive readers. Auxier balances these harsh elements with the winning innocence of the golem, the steady, nurturing demeanor of Nan, and an optimistic mudlark named Toby who will steal your heart.
As an added bonus, Auxier references a number of classic children’s stories which inspired him and I hope readers will be steered in those directions.
Highly recommended, this is fantastic historical-fantasy for ages 10 and up.