When Aubrey Worthington and her parents first moved into the small town of Alder Ferry, she had few expectations other than it would be miserable. But soon she means Tommy, a young mistreated boy who will become her best friend. The two of them grow up, supporting each other through the trials and tragedies that befall them, all the while dreaming of getting out of Alder Ferry.
I could stop this review after a single sentence.
I am awed by Whispers in the Alders.
The quality of the language and imagery laid out in this book are incredible. Much like Tommy, Mr. Callum has the soul of a poet and this is reflected clearly in his descriptions. These descriptions may vary from the peaceful and serene beauty of the alder stand to the horrific brutality of Tommy’s abuse, but they are always written in such a way as to allow the reader to form a fully realised image in their minds.
Told by an older Aubrey, as she thinks back on her earlier life and her memories of Tommy, we get to see the slow unfolding of their relationship. The story may proceed at a gentle pace but it never meanders; from their first meeting in the titular alders, the bond between the two unwanted and unloved teenagers is told in an authentic and convincing manner. He helps her cope with the knowledge that her parents view her as a mistake and that the town’s hatred of her father is so easily transferred to her. We see her desire to help Tommy when she learns some of his troubles, the fear and confusion as her actions have unintended consequences and her rage when Tommy is almost taken from her.
Due to the first person narrative, we learn less about Tommy, with the majority of what we discover coming as Aubrey learns about it herself. Most of the insight into his character comes from the dialogue during his interactions with Aubrey and the occasional pieces of his poetry that he allows her to read. He is carefully set up as perhaps the most hopeful and decent character in the novel, where virtually all the adult inhabitants of the town are variously cold, unforgiving, violent or self-serving. I will admit to occasionally wondering if anyone could retain the optimism Tommy does after the varied ill treatment he receives, but maybe that says more about me than the writing.
In summary, I would recommend this book to anyone who would appreciate lyrical storytelling, picturesque descriptiveness and a message that we can always rise above the circumstances the world puts us in. A strong contender for my favourite book of the year.
A strong contender for my favourite book of the year.
NB. I Received an advance copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.