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At the Firefly Gate Hardcover – March 13, 2007
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From School Library Journal
Grade 5–7—First published in England, this quiet, gentle story of friendship and love spans years and defies time. Small, timid Henry moves with his parents at the end of Year Six to a village in Suffolk near Risingheath, a former World War II airfield. The first friend he makes is an unlikely one: his neighbor's great-aunt. He is drawn to Dottie, for whom Henry is a reminder of another Henry-her fiancé, a Royal Air Force navigator who never returned from his 13th bombing mission. The author employs a nice touch of magical realism with the shadowy figure that appears in the evening and seems to be waiting, amid the fireflies, at the gate in Henry's garden. At night the boy hears the old planes that flew over more than 60 years earlier. He is drawn into Dottie's reminiscences, and sometimes has the strange sense of being in someone else's body. While playing with a flight-simulator program on a computer, young Henry "sees" what happened on that final mission. He realizes that, although the RAF navigator was afraid, he acted heroically. This realization helps the boy find courage and a way through his own fears. He has made some friends and is looking forward to the summer holidays. This is a well-written book, with an old-fashioned tone, that emphasizes character and feelings over plot. It's for thoughtful readers who appreciate a book that lingers in their minds.—Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School, South Portland, ME
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Henry misses his old home, school, and neighborhood in London and feels out of sorts in his family's new house, a cottage in a Suffolk village. Taking a liking to an elderly, dying woman who lives nearby, he becomes intrigued by her account of life in the area during World War II, when she fell in love with an RAF pilot at a nearby air station. Coincidentally, his name was Henry, too. Past and present blur as Henry has vivid dreams of himself as a wartime pilot and sees waking visions that he gradually realizes must come from another time or place. Newbery writes well, drawing readers into Henry's shifting reality slowly and letting his puzzlement work itself out. The subplot involving an inhospitable girl his parents urge him to befriend is acutely observed, incisively drawn, and sometimes painful in its realism. This contemporary British novel uses historical and magical elements sparingly, and to good effect. Carolyn Phelan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
"At the Firefly Gate" weaves together two stories set some fifty years apart with the help of one ghost, some visions, and an elderly neighbor. The contemporary story begins when sixth-form student, Henry, moves from London to Suffolk: "3, Church Cottages, Crickford St. Thomas, Suffolk, was the sort of address Henry's mum had always wanted."
Henry doesn't share this dream, however, and to add insult to injury his parents moved before the last week of school. To help him make friends over the summer, they force Henry to spend time with his prickly next door neighbor, Grace. Grace is a year older than Henry and wants little to do with him. Fortunately, her great aunt Dottie takes an instant liking to Henry and makes him feel at home.
On his first evening in Suffolk, Henry catches sight of a man standing by the gate at the end of Henry's garden, staring up at him. The man is smoking and surrounded by fireflies. Soon Henry is dreaming from the point of view of this man, the dreams taking him back fifty years to a war-time food stand and a pretty girl with bright blue eyes.
Newbery brings the present and past together beautifully in "At the Firefly Gate." The ghost story never seems contrived--the present and past overlap neatly in Henry's new village life. I also appreciated that Henry, albeit momentarily freaked out by the changes in his life, is more curious than frightened by his glimpse into the past. Henry takes his challenges as they come, be they real world (Grace, new school, new friends) or ghostly.
"At the Firefly Gate" is a stunner--a book I'll be pushing on everyone I know older than eight years old.