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Sunday, February 17, 2019

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster, by Jonathan Auxier. Penguin Random House, 2018. $21.99 ages 9 and up

"Truthfully, Nan had her doubts. If there was a fat giant hopping down chimneys once a year, she would probably have spotted him ... or at least heard him stomping on the roof. Chimneys were her business, after all. "I'm merry that Father Christmas saved the baby," Charlie said, pressing his fingers together. "Only I'm not sure I'd want to find him inside our chimney. Is he very frightening?" "Oh, he's terrifying. Dressed in all red, with long white ... "

What a cast of characters you will meet when you choose to read this marvelous Victorian tale of loss, terror, family, misery, and love above all! You will not forget them.

Nan Sparrow and the Sweep are inseparable, and have been as long as Nan can remember. His lessons to her have been numerous, and the days they spend together are happy, if often difficult. Everything they do together is described in the first five pages.

"This was life as the girl knew it. And every night she slept soundly, knowing that she and the Sweep would have each other forever."

When the Sweep disappears, Nan is left with his hat, a warm lump of charcoal, and an abiding love for the man who was her mentor and stalwart companion for so long. Going on without him is heartbreaking, but Nan is strong, smart, brave, determined, and often outspoken among the group of sweeps owned by the abusive Crudd. A frightful chimney fire allows escape for Nan. And, it gives life to the bit of 'char' the Sweep has left in her care, who saves her life. Naming her protective golem Charlie and striking out on their own, the two manage to make a life for themselves in an old abandoned house.

Life in Victorian London for children who sweep chimneys is harrowing, and fully realized in Jonathan Auxier's outstanding storytelling. There were times when I just had to take a breath before reading on, but those breaks were few and far between. Nan's story is compelling, heartbreaking and forever hopeful. She finds and gives support to those she loves, and welcomes help from Charlie when needed. She is also a protector of the naive golem, only wanting what is best for him at all times. In the final touching scenes, Charlie does what he has always done. Only then does Nan fully realize (as Miss Bloom has earlier told her) her golem is not an immortal, and she must learn to say goodbye again.

There are two sections, Innocence and Experience. Each brilliantly describe Nan's life. The characters brought to life are memorable, as are their many experiences ... good and bad. The setting lives and breathes, the community created is meaningful, and the novel itself deep and satisfying.

There is darkness; there is also brilliant light. Part fantasy, part truth ... it is a story for the ages. Don't miss it!

“We save ourselves by saving others.”

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