What does it mean to live fully? What does it mean to be crazy? Where do freewill, imagination, and the idea of taking chances come into play with each of these questions? Tania Unsworth probes into these inquires in her latest young adult fiction novel Brightwood.
Brightwood tells the story of Daisy Fitzjohn, a young girl living alone in a mansion with her mother. Daisy is not allowed to leave the mansion, and has never met any other human being besides her mother. Not that she doesn’t have friends like a rat named Tar and some animal and plant friends on the grounds of the property. But, Daisy still longs to know what life outside Brightwood Hall is like, despite the fact that she is most definitely scared of it.
Daisy’s yearning to go out into the world is put on hold though when her mother mysteriously disappears after heading out to the grocery store one Monday morning. Daisy is almost immediately suspicious because of the day of the week that her mother left: her mother is a rigid woman when it comes to schedules, and she only goes shopping on Wednesdays. But either way, Daisy is willing to give her mother the benefit of the doubt, at least at first. At least until a strange man shows up at the gates and lets himself in to Brightwood Hall. Now Daisy is really scared. But what is she more scared of: living on the grounds with a strange man wandering around who claims to want to help her, or leaving the only world she’s ever known to seek help?
Daisy is faced with these and many more hard questions as Brightwood progresses. All along the way, she confronts challenges of bravery and character. Daisy meets Frank, a (maybe) imaginary friend who appears in black and white and who helps guide Daisy with very strange and fantastical metaphors. Frank, a bit of a coward at times herself, helps Daisy to see that bravery isn’t easy and it doesn’t come naturally. Frank pushes Daisy to her limits, or perhaps Daisy pushes herself to her limits, depending on how you understand the story.
In the end Daisy must not only confront tasks that force her to show her courage, but she also comes up against challenges of morality. She must ask herself what the right thing to do is, and how she can “keep her shape,” as Tar demands she should.
Brightwood is a fast-paced, exhilarating novel that keeps readers on their toes: terrified, entranced, angered and in love with the characters Unsworth creates. As a Y.A. novel, Brightwood addresses important values for children ages 10 and up, and teaches these values in ways that are both subtle yet graspable.
Brightwood will be released by Algonquin Young Readers on September 27, 2016. You can preorder a copy at your local bookstore.
FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.