Books with themes around divorce and family break-ups can be heavy reading, especially books for children. But I have just finished reading a children’s book that deals with this difficult subject matter in a unique and interesting way, mixing family drama with fantasy and magic to tell a really great story that children, young adults and adult readers will enjoy. I enjoyed it so much that I read it in one sitting (264 pages). This book is Walls by Emma Fischel, published in 2018.
Ned Harrison Arkle-Smith had a very happy life living in a big house with his mum, dad and two sisters. That was until his parents announced that they were going to separate. It then got worse – rather than his dad move out of the family home, his parents decided that they were going to build new walls in the house, effectively creating two houses in one. This meant that the kids would spend one week in mums’ side and cross the lobby and then spend a week in dads’ side. Whilst his sisters are coping well with the change, Ned isn’t. If there wasn’t enough change at home, his best friend is also changing, getting new friends and wanting to do his own thing. Plus, he also has an annoying new neighbour, and a bully is making his life a misery. As nobody is doing want Ned wants, this all leaves him grumpier, bossier, angrier, and much more exasperating than he was before, but you can’t help liking him.
Oh, and with his anger building, he’s just discovered he can walk through walls!
Overall, I found Walls to be an excellent and fascinating read dealing with very real issues of family and friendship breakdowns, having to deal with change, anger and control issues. It is a story of the power of anger, pent-up emotions, stubbornness and the real and imaginary walls we put up to protect ourselves and loved ones. It is also a story packed with magic, sibling love, bullying, school experiences, danger, a poltergeist, and smugglers tunnels – and despite so much complexity it is written very well and easy to read.
Ned’s life is changing, and he can’t see the benefits of change and it is playing havoc with his emotions, building up an anger inside that is released out onto the walls. He gets so angry that the power of it manifests itself in a new skill when his foot, followed by his hand goes through the wall. This leads him to discover that he can walk through walls. He becomes a wallboggler (his term, not mine)! But such is the power of his emotions for the changing friendships and family dynamics he doesn’t use this skill for the good he could use it for but rather to play pranks to try and win back his best friend and to take his frustrations out on his parents.
Whilst Ned isn’t necessarily your typical likeable character, you can’t help feeling for him and having sympathy with his struggles. He loves order and control and tries to control the people around him (for reasons that do become clear in the book).
Written in the first person, told by Ned, Walls is a unique, original and humorous story with a protagonist who often gets things wrong with his need to control everything and everyone. His parent’s split is the catalyst for his bad behaviour, although the real issue lies deeper, he is having trouble with his emotions and anger, and it is having an effect on everything he does – although it is always someone else’s fault rather than his.
It takes an annoying new neighbour that calls him out and leads to him questioning himself, followed by a very dangerous situation that sees him having to put someone else first to accept that he can’t control everything, that change is always inevitable and that walls, very real brick ones or the ones we put up inside our own minds, can be used to help or hinder.
I loved reading Walls (the book, not the ones holding up my roof). Whilst it deals with difficult subjects it does so with humour and empathy. It is a story that travels along at a good pace and has an enjoyable collection of characters. Despite Ned being a complex character with some unlikeable traits, he is extremely interesting, and you can’t help but root for Ned, hoping that he finds his way through his emotional, anger and control issues. A thoroughly enjoyable read that is a very clever mix of drama and fantasy.
An excellent extraordinary multi-layered story that deals with some very real and relatable childhood issues in a rather unique and enjoyable way. Whilst it is a story suitable for children aged 9+, I think that is also a great story for young adults and older readers.
The building of walls is not just physical!
RRP: £6.99 (Paperback) / £5.99 (Kindle)