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Clay (Readers Circle) Paperback – March 11, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 7 Up–As in Kit's Wilderness (2000) and The Fire-Eaters (2004, both Delacorte), Almond revisits the English north country of his youth to spin this metaphysical tale of boys in conflict. Davie and his friend Geordie are altar boys, but are beginning to doubt the value of their long-held religious beliefs. They live in fear of the bullying Mouldy, a hulking, drunken lout from a neighboring village whom they're sure is out to kill them. Enter Stephen, a slightly older boy whose father is dead, whose mother is mad, and who was reputedly kicked out of priestly training for some kind of trouble related to devil worship and performing a Black Mass. A talented sculptor, he proceeds to scare Davie silly with his talk of creating life, of creating, in fact, a monster that will wreak revenge on Mouldy. Davie sees Stephen's clay figures move. Is it hypnotism, faith, or madness? Whatever, their monster is eventually made real. Mouldy may have been killed by it in a fall from a cliff, and Davie wrestles with his guilt until he ultimately destroys it. This is a Catholic ghost story, a sort of Secret Life of Boys with which many readers, should they persevere through the heavily nuanced language, will identify. While the look of the book is deceptively simple, the weighty content of the plot and its accompanying themes are chilling, indeed.–Joel Shoemaker, Southeast Junior High School, Iowa City, IA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Gr. 6-9. In Almond's beautiful novel Skellig (1999), a boy finds a fragile angel-like creature in his garden shed, but in this book the magical realism goes much further. The author sets a Frankenstein monster story in a small, contemporary English town. Mischievous altar boy Davie explains how a strange new kid, Stephen, convinces him to steal the body and blood of Christ from church, which the boys use to create a huge clay monster that obeys their wishes. Should the boys send Clay to kill Mouldy, the vicious local bully? When Mouldy falls to his death in the local quarry, Davie wonders if Clay is responsible. Is the monster reading his thoughts? How much of Davie is in the monster? The scary monster-come-to-town story raises big issues about God, creativity, and evil, but Davie's first-person narrative is never preachy. Discussions about art ("our passion to create goes with our passion to destroy") and religion (Has God abandoned us because we created nuclear bombs and gas chambers?) are beautifully handled, as is the portrait of Davie's happy family. Rooted in the ordinariness of a community and in one boy's chance to play God, this story will grab readers with its gripping action and its important ideas. Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Series: Readers Circle
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition (March 11, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 044042013X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0440420132
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,862,500 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

author spotlight
"Writing can be difficult, but sometimes it really does feel like a kind of magic. I think that stories are living things--among the most important things in the world."--David Almond

David Almond is the winner of the 2001 Michael L. Printz Award for Kit's Wilderness, which has also been named best book of the year by School Library Journal, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly. His first book for young readers, Skellig, is a Printz Honor winner.


Miraculous beings living in a miraculous world . . .
Maybe it comes from my religious upbringing (I grew up in a big Catholic family): I do feel that we are miraculous beings living in a miraculous world. Sometimes the explanations we're given--and the possibilities we're offered--are just too restricted and mechanistic. Stories offer us a place to explore (as writers and readers) what it is to be fully human. I do think that young people are interested in the major questions--Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? Is there a God?--and they're willing to contemplate all kinds of possibilities. They haven't yet become tired by such questions.

Brutality has to be allowed its place . . .
Ten minutes of TV news is enough to convince anybody that the world is a pretty brutal place. We aren't yet perfect people living in a perfect world--and we never will be--so brutality has to be allowed its place. But the world also contains great tenderness, joy, hope, etc. I suppose that in my books I explore a world and people that are made up of opposites: good and evil, light and darkness, the beautiful and the ugly. And I hope that in the end, goodness, light, and beauty will have some kind of upper hand.

Stories as a whole form a kind of community . . .
The stories in Counting Stars don't have a straightforward chronological progression, but there are many links between the different stories. They form a kind of mosaic. Themes hinted at in one story are developed in another. Characters are seen in different situations/settings. I like to think that the stories as a whole form a kind of community or family. It's often said that there's a big difference between writing short stories and novels, but I'm not so sure. I think of my novels as a series of scenes/chapters, each of which I write with the same kind of attention I'd give to a short story.

A readership of four . . .
When I began to write Counting Stars, I wanted to write about my sisters and brother, and to use their real names, so I needed their permission. I worried that they wouldn't be happy about the book. So I invited them all to my house for dinner, and afterwards I told them my plans, and I nervously read one of the first stories, "The Fusilier." If they had said no to using their real names, Counting Stars would have been a very different book--and maybe wouldn't have been written at all. But they said yes! Over the next couple of years, after I'd written each story, I sent copies to my brother and three sisters, so that they could see how things were developing. So, in a sense, the book was written for a readership of four people.

Staring out of the window . . .
I write at home, in a little office overlooking the back garden. I scribble in an artist's sketchbook and type onto an AppleMac computer. I work all day--though some of that time will involve staring out of the window and eating apples. But I also travel quite a lot, so I'm used to writing on trains, in hotels, etc.

I used to wonder if I'd ever be able to write a novel properly . . .
For many years, I wrote nothing but short stories, and I used to wonder if I'd ever be able to write a novel properly. I wrote the stories in Counting Stars before I wrote Skellig, my first children's novel. I wrote them over a two-year period. As I wrote them, I found myself exploring childhood experience from a child's point of view. I rediscovered the powerful imaginative and emotional nature of childhood. Really, writing these stories changed me into a writer for children/young adults.

Messing about with paper clips . . .
I always wanted to be a writer. I wrote little books and stories as a boy, and wanted to see my books on the shelves of our little local library right next to my favorite books: King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, The Day of the Triffids, and The Adventures of Turkey. But as for writing, I simply like it all--right from creating new stories to messing about with paper clips. The best piece of writing advice I've ever received: Don't give up.

It's often children who read the books with the most insight . . .
I think that children can be much more perceptive, creative, and intelligent than we give them credit for. I see this in the many letters I get from my readers and in the things that they say when I meet them. Some adults assume that children will never "get" the more complex aspects of my books, but in fact it's often children who read the books with the most insight.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Killian HALL OF FAME on July 31, 2006
Format: Hardcover
It isn't very chilling or exciting, but David Almond's CLAY is about as contemporary as they come. A trio of young boys footloose and alone in a sleepy town in the English countryside. One of the boys, Stephen Rose, a newcomer to the town of Felling, is a little bit strange. The narrator, Davie, has known the whole community for years, the good, the bad and the indifferent. His best friend, Geordie Craggs, is his alter ego, his opposite number, and the two of them have lived in mortal fear of a pack of neighborhood bullies for many years.

They are both altar boys, and while the kindly Irish parish priest, Father O'Mahoney, fails to molest them sexually, he is otherwise constructed from every cliche of fictional priests since the glory days of Graham Greene. It's a shame that Almond couldn't have met perhaps one real priest before writing this travesty; his character development might have improved. Crazy Mary likewise couldn't have been less original. I don't know, maybe kids like this kind of "shorthand" and don't mind the invocation of stereotypes at every turn. I decided to read this book aloud to a pair of 12 year old I know, and one of them seemed fascinated by it, while the other, sort of a goth little boy, knew by chapter five how every twist and turn was going to play out, and he guessed correctly about 85 per cent of the time.

Well, the three boys plan to stop the bullies by animating a sculpted figure made of indigenous clay, that they call Mouldy. "You just did what God did," one exclaims, "only faster." Methinks Felling's a gooey place even in the best of times. One cute note is Davie's growing infatuation with a lithe, curious, female student. The whole novel could have been about them, instead of this tired Frankenstein homage, and I would have been quite satisfied. But half of the kids I know would have turned on me for suggesting such a thing. They like CLAY and they like their David Almond.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Ken C. TOP 1000 REVIEWER on December 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Here's an odd book -- YA, but more rightly coined a book about teens for adults -- that will certainly NOT appeal to reluctant readers. In fact, David Almond's CLAY features Northern England dialect and themes about good and evil that are a challenge for readers, and even though it is said that girls will read books written for boys (though the opposite is not true), I wonder how many girls would actually read and enjoy this.

One creepy read, CLAY follows the rough-and-tumble adventures of protagonist Davie (13) and his best pal Geordie, two altar boys in it for the tips who scrap with Protestant boys now and again, avoiding all the while the hulking and dangerous Protestant presence of one Martin Mouldy.

Enter the dragon in the form of Stephen Rose (from who knows where). Stephen's father is dead (by accident?), his mother mad (by design?), and he's sent to be brought up by the village madwomen herself, Crazy Mary. Stephen Rose has a talent for sculpting "men" out of clay, and he's about to breath one to life, but needs Davie to help pull it off. Davie (the good angel) and Stephen (the bad) become the "Masters" of Clay, a creature that echoes both his creators specifically and mankind in general, being a creature of both great promise and greater disappointment. When a murder occurs after the monster's afoot, the novel takes on a life of its own. Hypnotism? Dreams? Madness? Reality? The lines are deliberately blurred as Clay repeatedly wanders the landsccape and asks commands of its terrified master, Davie.

As an adult reader, I was intrigued by this book. I wouldn't buy it for my 8th-grade classroom library, though, because I don't believe it would fly.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Teen Reads on January 12, 2007
Format: Hardcover
David Almond's latest effort, CLAY, is an utterly creepy tale of good versus evil. Set in the English north countryside --- like Almond's Printz Award-winning novel, KIT'S WILDERNESS, and Whitbread Award winner THE FIRE-EATERS --- CLAY tells the story of Davie, a 13-year-old altar boy who finds his faith questioned when a new boy comes to town who claims he can make a monster out of clay.

At the beginning of the story, Davie is just your typical mischievous altar boy who along with his friend Geordie enjoys stealing the sacramental wine and smoking stolen cigarettes. They do go to confession each week though to make up for it. Along with their altar boy antics, Davie and Geordie are enemies with the town bully, a typically drunken and belligerent Protestant named Martin Mould, aka Mouldy. They're convinced that Mouldy is out to get them, and against Mouldy's entourage Davie and Geordie know they don't stand a chance.

When a mysterious and creepy new kid named Stephen Rose shows up in town, and Father O'Mahoney encourages them to befriend the troubled young man, Davie and Geordie think that maybe Stephen is exactly what they need to win the Mouldy war. But Stephen seems nearly as crazy as the aunt he lives with, who is known as Crazy Mary from town. Plus, Stephen has a mysterious past that includes a dead father, a mother in a mental hospital and an expelling from his last school.

When Stephen stabs one of Mouldy's chums, Geordie freaks out, but Davie remains oddly enthralled with the creepy kid and finds himself spending more and more time alone with him. Then, Stephen shows Davie what he can do with clay and how he can make it move and turn to life. When Stephen comes up with a plan to make a monster out of clay, Davie is caught in the middle.
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