The Children of Castle Rock, by Natasha Farrant

My most formative reading years (8-10 years old) were a blend of Elizabeth Goudge, Joan Aiken, and Enid Blyton, which primed me just beautifully to enjoy The Children of Castle Rock, by Natasha Farrant (middle grade, out in the UK last spring from Faber and Faber)!

Alice's mother died several years before the book begins, and her aunt has become her primary caregiver (her father being a somewhat feckless actor).  Alice has withdrawn into writing stories, and her aunt, while recognizing and respecting her gift, is concerned that she is not actually living any stories of her own.  So the aunt arranges to sell the family home, and sends Alice off to boarding school.

Fortunately, that aunt, having Alice's best interests of heart, has picked an unusual boarding school in an old, once majestic estate in the wilds of Scotland, whose headmaster specializes in waifs and strays.  And happily she's given a room of her own.  Slowly she begins to make friends, and appreciate the externals of life.  Then her father, whose communication and dependability have both been lacking, asks her to rendezvous with him at a castle on a remote island. Alice takes advantage of the school's three day orienteering challenge to meet him there.

The two boys who are her team-mates in the challenge rise to the occasion to help her get to the island, and all three face their own personal issues in making it happen.  They also face a bad storm that blows their tent away, forcing them to break into an empty house, and they face other believable outdoor sort of challenges, and more unbelievably, a  dangerous international thief and her lackeys (there are reasons why the kids are in the crosshairs of this villain...).  But the three kids survive, and make it back to school in one piece, their friendships strengthened and their spirits on track for being soothed.

A very good story, mostly because of the friendship part; there were too many authorial intrusions for my taste (I loathe them in general), but very satisfying all in all.  Thinking of the three authors I mention above, I see echoes of what I liked in their books:

For Elizabeth Goudge--the vivid descriptions and sense of place, and the times the characters live deeply in moments of wonder.
For Joan Aiken--the over-the-top international thieves sub-plot (although this is much less remarkable than Aiken's plots!)
Enid Blyton--the plucky school kids on adventures (though with less emphasis on food....)

But in this book, the main point is more the internal lives of the characters--their hurts and their growth, which isn't what any of the three above were primarily concerned with!  More could have been made of the headmaster's six kittens, which none of the kids sufficiently appreciated, but you can't have everything.


  1. Sounds great! I love Goudge and Aiken, though I never read Enid Blyton. I never thought much about authorial intrusions; I don't think they bother me as such, as long as they're in keeping with the tone of the book overall.

  2. I am learning that more classic/older middle grade titles aren't not for me (the plots appeal to me but the writing style I never get the hang of), but now I am curious to read this book to see how I feel about it!

  3. I bought this in the UK last spring but haven't had a chance to read it yet. It did make me think of Linnets and Valerians with a little Mallory Towers thrown in.


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