Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Rowan the Strange by Julie Hearn

rowan the strange I’m not entirely sure where I read about this book.  I’m not usually convinced by quotes from the Guardian by Philip Ardagh saying “It is nothing short of extraordinary”, or “engrossing novel” from the Sunday Telegraph, or “This is quite possibly the most amazing work of children’s fiction I have read in the last two years” from the Bookbag… I’m pretty sure it would have had to be from somewhere else.  It might have been that I was wondering what everyone was going on about… but it doesn’t matter now, what is important is that I bought it, read it and am now going to share it with you.

Set at the start of the Second World War, Rowan has a few “issues”.  He’s a slightly troubled boy, prone to lashing out and he has a voice in his head telling him what to do.  After he breaks his younger sister’s fingers, Rowan is sent to a mental institution to be treated for schizophrenia.  This is not a decision taken lightly by his parents and I felt their raw anguish at the choice they had to make.

Whilst in the hospital, Rowan is one of the first patients to be subjected to electro-convulsive therapy.  The challenging part of this is that his doctor is called von Metzer and he is a German.

Rowan the Strange is a hugely compelling and fascinating story.  The comparisons are drawn between the mental illness of a child patient being treated in such a crude and excruciating way while the seemingly sane staff were cruel and bitter and in the outside world men were killing each other in the name of war.

The novel is chock full of the most wonderfully drawn characters. His German doctor, von Metzer, is so kind and caring while the pretty young nurse Rowan develops a crush on turns out to be…well… less than nice.  This turning stereotypes on its head is a theme throughout the book and one of the signals to make you think more deeply about the book and the situation as a whole.  I absolutely loved the feisty Dorothea who saw people’s Guardian Angels and had Joan of Arc sitting on her own shoulder.

One of the things I loved most, and incredibly skilfully pulled off by Julie Hearn is the multiple viewpoints.  Although the book is mostly told from Rowan’s perspective, we see glimpses of the thoughts and actions of the other characters and since every one has an impact on the other it is fascinating to join in with their thought processes.

There are so many things to love about this quiet, yet often violent book.  The writing is exemplary and the characters incredibly alive on the page and there are shades of light and dark to keep you moved and the give you pause for reflection. I would consider this a very important book and one I would encourage you all to read.

Damnit… those big reviews were right after all!

Rowan the Strange.  Published by OUP.  ISBN: 9780192729200

About Eve Harvey

Eve Harvey is a bookaholic. She is forever to be found with her nose in a book. If there are none around then newspapers, magazines, the back of cereal packets, road signs or the tiny washing labels found on the seams of jumpers will do. Eve used to have full time job as a children's bookseller and she was the very first Waterstone's Children's Expert Bookseller in Scotland. Her first love was definitely literature for children and teens, about which she has nerd-level knowledge. However she has since become involved in grown-up books and has co-written her first adult novel with Cath Murphy. Eve and Cath Podcast, blog and have far too much fun on their website Domestic Hell. Eve lives in a field just outside Edinburgh in Scotland with her daughter and son and two dogs and two rabbits. She also has some tanks of tropical fish and vows one day to start up a marine aquarium. And the day she signs her very first publishing deal she is going to celebrate by buying a pair of Horsefields tortoises. You can find Eve through her Agent, Ella Kahn at DKW Literary Agency. She's also on Twitter or on her website :

2 comments on “Rowan the Strange by Julie Hearn

  1. Nikki
    April 17, 2010

    Sounds amazing! I’m almost a little shocked that it’s a children’s book. But at the same time I’m pleased. I think I’d like to read this, disturbing as it sounds. The boy on the cover is familiar…

  2. Jackie
    April 17, 2010

    It does seem like an awfully serious subject for a children’s book, but then, it’s something kids want/need to know more about. Even adults should learn more about mental illness.
    The characters sound very well drawn, I like the idea of someone who can see Guardian Angels.
    As always, you put your Eveian stamp on the review, which made it even more engaging.

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This entry was posted on April 17, 2010 by in Entries by Eve, Fiction: young adult and tagged , , , , , , .



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