I discovered David Almond reading Skellig. He has the incredible ability to write spooky and sinister books for younger readers as well as for adults. There seems to be a very thin line between writing children books and writing challenging books and David Almond seems to be extremely talented at writing precisely on that line.
In the same way, Neil Gaiman's books for younger readers have the same capacity to captivate children and develop at the same time very serious themes. I really love the fact that you can read these books on many different levels, depending on your age but also your personality.
Anyways, Clay is the story of best friends Davie and Geordie who are your regular young teenagers. They are altar boys but rebels on the inside: smoking some 'fags' and drinking altar wine (which I find hilarious). Like many groups of young kids, they are at war against another gang of kids from their small village of - wait for it - Felling-on-Tyne in Northumberland (UK), led by the horrible Mouldy who "already drank like a man". They both meet Stephen Rose, who has come to live with his aunt, Crazy Mary, and are asked to make friends with him by Father O'Mahoney.
There is something strange and maybe evil about Stephen Rose. He makes those little figures out of clay which look very realistic, he stays by himself and he has a quite sinister personality. But he might be able to help Davie with Mouldy and his gang. Davie also lives the very first moments of love with Maria, a girl who isn't like any other and might like Davie too.
Though I prefered Skellig to this one, I think it is an incredible story. The type which makes you question your beliefs and make you think about the difference between good and bad, even when reading it as an almost adult.
It is very unusual, I believe, but I might be wrong (don't hesitate to contradict me and hit on my head with a stick), to portray such a peculiar and maybe evil character as Stephen Rose. You never really know if he is crazy or has strong beliefs or is simply right and we're all a bunch of blinded fools. You won't only enjoy reading this book but it will make you think, and not just about what you're going to eat for diner.
On the style, I really like David Almond's storytelling talent. You have to read it to believe it (I am definitely trademarking this sentence, people, no stealing it). I also liked the fact that for the dialogues, Almond wrote how the characters would have said the words, with the accent, like "Bliddy Hell" and "He's nowt to us", which makes you even more inside the story.
Another very interesting point, which is just hinted throughout the book, and is therefore given a very strong latent power (and, yes, I just said that), is the mention of the enmity between protestants and catholics. Davie and Geordie are living in Felling, where there is a strong catholic minority and Mouldy and his gang live in Pelaw where there is instead a majority of Protestants. Though the Pelaw/Felling fight is more of a tradition for the younger ones like Davie, the entire enmity is rooted in the religious hatred that was still very vivid a few decades ago. You see Davie's father reaction when Davie comes home after a fight saying this is how it escalates into a bloody war.
I really liked this book. So if you are a YA fan, David Almond is a definite must-read, and if you like spooky disturbing stories, this one's a treat !