White Crow is Marcus Sedgwick's latest young adult gothic tale; it is not a difficult read but it is definitely not for younger children as it covers serious topics and is really quite scary in places. I have arranged for Marcus Sedgwick to come into my school in May and I asked one of my student fans of his which his favourite book was and I was recommended White Crow. I have also heard good things about My Swordhand is Singing and Blood Red, Snow White, and Revolver was shortlisted for the Carnegie award 2010 so I will probably try those at some point in the future.
White Crow is set both in the present day and in the 18th century. In the present day it follows Rebecca, a teenager who has just been uprooted from London to the tiny village of Winterfold because of a mistake her Dad made in his investigations of a missing child. Winterfold is on the edge of a cliff and gradually falling into the sea which adds to the otherwordly feel of the village and the book. Rebecca is bored, lonely and confused about how culpable her Dad really is for what the press claim he did. She meets Ferelith, an intelligent, goth teenager who lives in a kind of commune in the village. We get some passages from Ferelith's perspective and she is revealed to be very bright and also to have some sort of sinister plan going on. Sedgwick creates a creepy character in Ferelith and along with Rebecca, we're never quite sure when she's telling the truth, when she's just eager to make a friend or when she is following her unspecified ulterior motive with Rebecca. I did find myself getting frustrated with Rebecca for keeping on forgiving her and then trusting her again after the various things that Ferelith does. Rebecca herself, whilst the main character and relatable as a teenager, is really just a canvas for the action and the story of the book to happen to. The story is never told in Rebecca's voice either which adds to this, on purpose I'm sure.
Interspersed with Rebecca and Ferelith's story are journal entries from an 18th century priest who recounts his dealings with the newly arrived Dr. Barrieux in Winterfold Hall and their experiments into life after death. These are quite brief, and rather vague until we suddenly find out more about the nature of their experiments as it links in to what is happening in the present day. Whilst not entirely unexpected as it has been hinted at, the reveal of what exactly they are doing is gruesome and horrible. The theme of life and death and religion is present throughout the book; Rebecca and Ferelith discuss whether they believe in God and the idea of the titular white crow is that just as one white crow would prove that all crows are not black; seeing one person contacting the living world from beyond the grave proves that it is possible.
Sedgwick's talent lies in his writing; it is unputdownable as well as unnerving and creepy. I was totally sucked into the story and desperate to find out what was going to happen. Whilst there is a vague sense of where the story is headed, I really had no idea how the story was going to finish. Having said that, the final pages produced a kind of twist which I must admit I didn't really understand. I got the general idea but didn't really feel like there had been enough in the preceeding chapters to make the specifics clear enough. Personally, I like things to make sense thoroughly, even in a fictional supernatural story(!), and I am looking forward to quizzing Sedgwick when he visits my school on what the ending meant!