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The Scream    by Joan Aiken order for
by Joan Aiken
Order:  USA  Can
Macmillan, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by Wesley Williamson

Joan Aiken is a very prolific author not only of children's stories but of adult mysteries, having written more than one hundred books. This slim volume, with a few excellent illustrations, is extremely impressive, perfect of its kind. David and his family once lived on a remote Scottish island, where his Grandmother continued the family tradition as a Ridder, putting the evil eye on rats to make them drown themselves in the sea. David's father had come to work on the mainland bringing David, his mother, and elder sister, Lu-Lyn, very much against the latter's will. However, Lu-Lyn was able to visit her grandmother on the island, until the Government made all the residents leave, while they carried out some dangerous research.

Soon after Granny moved to the city, the family was involved in a tragic car accident; David's father and mother were killed, and he was left crippled, in a wheelchair. He and Lu-Lyn moved in with Granny, and Lu-Lyn was able to keep on with her ballet lessons, which were her only real interest, apart from her obsession with the island. David felt very much the odd man out, since Granny and Lu-Lyn seemed to have shared secrets, some of which David found disturbing. He was also concerned by Granny's interest in Munch's picture, The Scream. She not only had a copy, but an alarm clock which awakened you with a scream, and a cushion which screamed when you sat down on it. Indeed Lu-Lyn picked The Scream as the motif for the dance she was going to perform at the end-of-term show her school was producing. Then the shadow of dark powers began to become manifest.

The Scream is not light reading. Lu-Lyn is a driven, obsessive loner with powers which she does not really understand or control. She is certainly not a sympathetic character, nor indeed is Granny, whose own powers are twisted and suspect. Even David, the narrator of the tale, only reveals the surface of his personality, at least until the very end of the book. What Joan Aiken has done here is to frame a fascinating story about children in a world where magic is real - real and commonplace and domestic - not shining heroic magics, but the small ragged, stained version that is so much more likely, the kind that could be distorted so readily by human beings from relatively good to relatively evil. This little book should be required reading as a necessary antidote to every volume of Harry Potter.

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