- Age Range: 8 - 12 years
- Grade Level: 3 - 7
- Lexile Measure: 620L (What's this?)
- Hardcover: 240 pages
- Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books (January 1, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 054521825X
- ISBN-13: 978-0545218252
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,662,604 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Season Of Secrets Hardcover – January 1, 2011
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From School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-Molly and her sister, Hannah, live with their grandparents in Northumberland, on the border between England and Scotland. Their mother has died and their father, unable to cope, has left them with his parents temporarily, though it is becoming more of a permanent situation, much to the girls' dismay. A ray of hope shows itself to Molly with the appearance of "my man," the Oak King or Green Man, the spring and summer figure in the life cycles of seasons. A mythical figure-as is his nemesis, the Holly King or Beast Man, ruler of fall and winter months-he is for Molly all too real. She witnesses as he perishes in the face of the Beast Man, only to reemerge as an unruly, adolescent, Puck-like figure when spring returns. As seasons change, so do Molly and her family members. Her father slowly recovers and rediscovers that his girls need him, and Molly begins making friends at school. She still takes comfort in "her man," and through him sees the never-ending struggles of life. At first somewhat slow, the book proves to be captivating as Molly's fantasy/coping skills introduce her to a life cycle that is painful, yet part of a continuum, and not solely the unbearable loss she initially experiences. For thoughtful readers, this tale is a gem. British lingo may be a bit unfamiliar to American children, but it in no way hinders understanding the dialogue in this meaningful story.-Tracy Karbel, Chicago Public Library (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
This atmospheric novel, which draws upon the legend of the Green Man, is a study in grief and renewal, reminiscent of Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia (1977) and K. L. Going’s The Garden of Eve (2007). Molly and Hannah are sisters of wildly different temperaments who have recently lost their beloved mother to an aneurism. In the wake of the tragedy, they are sent to live with their grandparents while their father tries to pull himself together. Molly is a dreamer with a rich inner world, so when she discovers a mysterious man in the woods who is capable of growing flowers and trees at the touch of a finger, no one believes her. Molly, though, is convinced that the man is real and might be able to resurrect her mother. The story’s underlying themes focus on how the natural cycle of winter to spring mirrors the emotional healing of a family. Moving seamlessly between fantasy and reality, this title offers a thoughtful, touching exploration of how we survive our darkest hours. Grades 5-8. --Kara Dean
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Since Molly and Hannah's mother died they've been handling it as best they could. Their father, however, has not been handling it well. Not a jot. So distraught is he by the loss of his wife, in fact, that he sends his two daughters off to live with their grandparents in the country. One night Molly is witness to a frightening vision of a man run down by a pack of dogs and a horned man on a horse. In the ensuing days she tries to tell others, to no avail, then discovers the man in a nearby shed. She cannot nurse or help him, but she can learn as much as she can about him and what exactly he is. As she does, her father is drawn more and more into her life with her sister, though it takes him many tries and many mistakes before any progress can be made. The return of her father and the eventual destruction of the man come together in such a way as to give rise to winter, and the ensuing, beautiful, spring.
I've been reading so many books lately that don't give a fig for beautiful language. Coming across Ms. Nicholls felt like a gulp of cool water then. I wasn't two pages in when Molly let loose with the descriptive, "Hannah is one and half years older than me, yet she takes up about one and a half million times more space." And later, "My dad's shirts are always stiff and clean and white; you button him up all the way to his throat and there he is, locked up safe and going nowhere." I love a book that gives everyday descriptions real personality and flair. It's the signature style of Ms. Nicholls. It's something you can count on in every book she writes.
And then there was an element to this title that I found simultaneously clever and frustrating. Age. Here we have a tale of two sisters, one older, one younger, and there's not a moment in this story when we've a clear sense of how old they are. This is frustrating to a reviewer like myself since you judge how believable you find a character based, in large part, on whether or not they accurately act their age. I would have thought that Molly was acting a bit young for her age at quite a few points in the story, except that for all I know Molly could be seven or she could be ten. My suspicion is that Ms. Nicholls gave Molly a younger age, but then realized something. If you write a middle grade novel for 9-12 year-olds and you make your heroine only eight years of age, children aren't going to want to read that story. Truth be told, kids like to read about children that are older than themselves. I don't care how many horned baddies you throw in there, the minute they realize that they're sympathizing with someone the age of their little brother or sister, they may abandon the novel tout suite. The solution then would be to eliminate ages altogether. A clever solution then, if a bit frustrating for those of us trying to get a firm grasp on whom these characters really are.
It's such a strange novel that for a moment there you just have to wonder if this is all entirely in Molly's head. She certainly believes that the man and the Holly King (a.k.a. the dude with the horns) are real, but might we take this book as a story that is just the wild fever dream of a girl desperately trying to recreate a strong male figure in the absence of her own father? You can get fairly far in with this interpretation, but at some point it's just not possible anymore. What happens here is real, to a certain extent. For good or for ill.
I've always had a bit of interest in books for children that are brave enough to meld religions in some fashion. For example, there's "The Dark Is Rising" with its fingers on pagan traditions and a nod to modern Christianity (a small nod). Better still was Pat Walsh's "The Crowfield Curse" which managed to work in Christianity, the older fairy worship of the hills, and the even older dark religions that came before. "Season of Secrets" for its part is nothing so dark, but at the same time it isn't afraid to lead its child readers to the edge of some pretty huge questions. The Man, as he is sometimes known, is a figure of rebirth in the spring. So it is that Nicholls will have Molly first encounter his likeness in a church (an accurate detail, I have little doubt) and then later say things like, "He looks like a curly haired Jesus" later even speculating (but not questioning) that, "he's sort of god, like Jesus." Nicholls also draws together different old English myths with skill, reminding readers that they may have seen the horned leader of The Wild Hunt not only in books like "The Black Cauldron" or the aforementioned "The Dark is Rising" but also in stories about Woden, Odin, Herne, and even King Arthur.
But the book that this reminded me the most of, both in terms of tone and subject matter, was David Almond's "Skellig". In one book you've a girl who tends to an injured man with the power over nature in an abandoned shed. In the other a boy who tends to a starving man with wings in his garage. Of course the relationship in "Skellig" is mildly contentious. "Season of Secrets", in contrast, feels as if it is invoking the relationship between Lucy and Mr. Tumnus in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe". Not a bad comparison when you consider that in both cases you have wild nature spirits tamed, in a sense, by little British girls. Much of this story has been seen before in some sense, but Nicholls puts her own very unique spin on the storytelling. The result is a powerful look at love, nature, the seasons, family, and home.
For ages 9-12.
There is no doubt however that Sally Nicholls has a beautiful style of writing and this will not put me off reading any more of her books, in fact I'm really looking forward to the release of 'All Fall Down' in March - set in Yorkshire during the Black Death.
Molly Brooke is attempting to put on a brave face after the sudden and unexpected death of her mother. Her grieving father has shunted her and younger sister Hannah off to stay with their grandparents. Molly is full of concerns about how she'll fit in at her new school, how long she'll be staying with her grandparents, whether she'll end up in an orphanage, and if her father will ever be able to pull himself together. Amidst all of this, she finds and hides a mysterious man in the woods, who is apparently being hunted. Her family assumes that her "imaginary friend" isn't real, and the reader is left to guess whether the "Green Man" in the story is simply a coping mechanism for Molly, or in fact, a helpless pagan God who relies on Molly's help to weather the winter. Hannah is appropriately bratty for a younger sister, the grandparents are loving, yet feeling quite put-upon, and Molly's dad is nearly catatonic with grief. When another child in the neighborhood corroborates Molly's story about a "homeless" man in the woods, her grandparent's belated panicky reaction amused me greatly. The family's initial disbelief of her claims is well handled -- everybody's stressed to the max about the recent death in the family, Molly's always been known to be an imaginative, dreamy kid, and when she initially tells her grandparents that she's worried about this man she saw in the woods there are enough details that sound unbelievable... he can appear and disappear, he can make plants and trees grow at his touch, he's being hunted by another man on horseback... and when her grandmother goes out to where Molly claims she left him camped out, she finds nothing, so the whole family assumes that this is another symptom of Molly cracking under the stress.
Months later, someone else mentions seeing him, the grandparents panic, suddenly realizing their granddaughter has been hanging out with a stranger for REAL all this time. It's not really that "funny" but it had me thinking, "Well, duh!" and reminded me of how adults often don't take kids seriously enough.
With it's themes of loss, stressful family situations and hidden supernatural beings who may or may not be real, this story reminded me greatly of Skellig by David Almond. Anglophiles will be pleased to know that the book has remained largely unedited, full of British references to popular children's television programs such as Blue Peter and the like.