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The Hideaway

The Hideaway

Published: 2 Sep 2021

Hardback, 248 pages

Recommended for age 14+

By Pam Smy

Published by Pavilion Books

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RRP £14.99
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The wonderful long-awaited second novel from Pam Smy, celebrated author and illustrator of Thornhill. The Hideaway tells the story of a boy, Billy McKenna, who runs away from a difficult situation at home and takes refuge in an overgrown graveyard. While hiding there he meets an elderly man who is tending the graves in preparation for a day in November when something magical is set to happen.

The book is written in two alternating narratives, both different aspects of the same story. One thread tells of Billy's experience of hiding away in the graveyard, his mixed-up feelings and emotions, and the supernatural events he eventually witnesses. The other tells of his mother's situation at home and the police search for Billy.

Covering themes of family, childhood, separation and reunion, domestic violence and doing the right thing, this is an important and beautiful book for middle grade readers right up to adults. Billy's story is illustrated throughout with tonal and textured black and white drawings, until the event on All Souls' Eve, when the text gives way to a series of double page images of the supernatural happening. The Hideaway is a compelling, exciting and emotional story that will stay with you long after you finish the last page.
Pam Smy talks to Nikki Gamble about her highly anticipated second novel, The Hideaway. Listen to the podcast here...

Reviewed by Roy James

So many people, myself included, have been waiting for Pam Smy’s second illustrated/graphic novel. And just like Thornhill, it’s moving, sensitive, and intense.

Billy is thirteen years old, and no longer feels safe in the one place he should: at home. His mum’s partner is violent towards her, so he packs a bag with supplies, and leaves. Finding refuge in an old pillbox by a graveyard, he meets an old man. Billy strikes up a friendship and helps him tidy the headstones for reasons unclear. Promising to keep his secret for a few days, the old man reveals his own past, which also haunts his present.

While Billy copes with being away from his mum, Grace, not only frantically worries about her boy, is also terrified of what her partner might do behind closed doors. 

Culminating in more than one reunion, the beauty and bliss of being with those you love show that bonds are never truly broken.

When “children’s” books tackle serious topics there’s a huge amount of responsibility on the author. Not only to treat the subject matter with sensitivity and accuracy but to also take the reader into account too. I have no doubt about the amount of research Smy has done. The realness of Grace and Billy’s situation is a testament to this and being an accomplished writer.

As I was reading though, I was constantly thinking of who the audience should be. Billy is thirteen, and I struggled to place it in this age group. Part of this is down to the narrative thread following Billy’s mum. It’s unusual to have an adult perspective in a children’s book, and as an adult, I found myself with more of a connection to Grace than Billy, and dare I say it, less sympathy towards him for running away. Perhaps a younger reader would have a different view, but Grace’s pain, for her lost son and abusive partner, felt like a greater weight. It’s got me wanting to discuss whether such anguish from an adult point of view has a place in children’s literature.

Coming back to responsibility, I also thought a great deal about the characters who kept Billy’s secret. They knew he had run away and that people were looking for him, including his poor mother and the police. They promised not to tell, albeit with conditions and inner turmoil. But I wondered whether this is a message to send to young readers and for that reason, I think it is more suited to teenagers and adults.

With these issues aside, everything, of course, works out for the best. The finale is beautiful, and the accompanying artwork is as atmospheric and emotive as you’d expect. The two threads are powerful and I shed more than a few tears. This isn’t a book I’ll forget, that’s for sure.

As mentioned, it’s difficult to recommend to a specific age group. It’s not one for primary, and the domestic violence theme could be a trigger for others. Read this book first before handing it over to the young people in your care. 

 

I work as a librarian across two primary schools, and I tutor English Literature and Language at a secondary school. I was recently awarded a PGCert from Oxford Brookes University in Children's Literature.
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