Sometimes you read a great deal about a book before you get to read the book itself, so much so that you can feel that you know the story in advance. The Hideaway by Pam Smy was, for me, such a book. However despite the plaudits on social media and the praise from people whose opinion I trust I did rather approach my reading of this with the attitude that it may not live up to expectations. Well, I was wrong, The Hideaway manages to be both raw and disturbing and hopeful and loving. It is a remarkable book.
Billy McKenna needs to escape. He runs away in fear from a difficult situation at home and takes refuge in an overgrown graveyard. While hiding away there he meets an elderly man who is tending the graves in preparation for a special day. Meanwhile Billy’s mother Grace needs to escape too but she cannot. The reader accompanies Billy and Grace as their lives part through a dual narrative that is expertly executed. The storyline gradually draws in others and we watch as connections are made and lives weave together in a moving manner as the importance of individuals to each other is carefully revealed to the reader. The plot is structured in such a way that you feel personally involved. Each character matters and the storyline brings home how our lives are connected to those around us.
The difficult subject matter of domestic abuse is not sensationalised but does need to be borne in mind for this book’s readership. After the shocking opening chapter the story deals with this topic carefully, alluding to the gradual increase from dominance to coercive control and ultimately physical violence rather than a direct portrayal of this. The characters are well rounded and sympathetic. Both Ben and his mother Grace are victims yet we read of life before and that creates a picture of them as happy, fulfilled people enjoying life.
This is a beautiful book to look at. The pairing of text and illustrations works extremely well. The setting of the graveyard in which Billy and the old man form their bond is captured in textured black and white drawings. Some pages are edged with ivy and branches adding to the feeling of hiding away. The climax of the story is told in a series of wordless double page spreads which are, I think, immensely moving. To say any more would spoil the reveal but these illustrations ‘speak’ in a way the reader can understand. No matter what your own personal beliefs may be it would be hard not to be moved by this story of love, loss, family, and hope.
I found the interconnectedness of the lives in The Hideaway profoundly affecting. We watch as small acts of kindness make a difference, as personal experience affects attitudes. The Hideaway in addition to being a beautiful, moving story is a touching exploration of community, family and society itself.
The Hideaway was published by Pavilion Books on 9th September and I should like to thank the publishers and Catherine Ward very much for providing my review copy. As regular readers of my reviews know that most books that I mention are suitable for primary school age children I think I should say that due to the subject matter I think this is for teenage readers. It does, I think, have crossover appeal, and is one that adults would appreciate too.
After I had finished reading The Hideaway I listened to Nikki Gamble interview Pam Smy on her regular podcast, In the Reading Corner. You may like to listen too.