David Almond There’s an empty notebook lying on the table in the moonlight. It’s been there for an age. I keep on saying that I’ll write a journal. So I’ll start right here, right now. I open the book and write the very first words: My name is Mina and I love the night. Then what shall I write? I can’t just write that this happened then this happened then this happened to boring infinitum. I’ll let my journal grow just like the mind does, just like a tree or a beast does, just like life does. Why should a book tell a tale in a dull straight line?
And so Mina writes and writes in her notebook, and here is her journal, Mina’s life in Mina’s own words: her stories and dreams, experiences and thoughts, her scribblings and nonsense, poems and songs. Her vivid account of her vivid life.
Mina is different. Not like other children her age. She tries to do as she is told in school but she can never quite manage it. The other children know she is different and mostly stay away. But Mina likes it like that, at least that is what she tells herself. Homeschooled and isolated, Mina starts a journal. One that talks of school, life and word. Lots of words. It also talks of a family who move in down the road and their son, a boy called Michael.
This is the prequel to ‘Skellig’. A book that I have yet to read, I almost read the book before I read ‘My Name is Mina’ but in the end decided not to, a decision I’m still not sure about. I do know something about the storyline in ‘Skellig’ and am now very much looking forward to reading. I have a strange feeling I may return to ‘My Name is Mina’ to reread when I have finished it.
I was told my another school librarian that this was perhaps a book about a child, but would be enjoyed more by adults. Whilst I do see her point I would be inclined to disagree. It isn’t for any child, I think it would take a more mature child to read and enjoy this, but they would get so much from it that it would be worth that bit more concentration we would need. Through Almond’s words we are transported into this world of a child who doesn’t quite fit. A child who sees the world in a very different way to the rest of us. Any child/ teenager will no doubt relate to parts of Mina’s personality and may well come away with a greater understanding of other facets of her personality. As an adult working in education I found it fascinating. I liked and admired Mina and hated the idea of her being ‘caged’ by the educational establishment, but at the same time understood how frustrating for the establishment to deal with Mina. A child who isn’t doing as she is asked because she wants to be difficult, or because she is lazy, but because she sees the world in such a different way that she doesn’t know how to do as she is asked. I hope that it will change the way I deal with young people, as I firmly believe that there is a little piece of Mina in all of us.
The journal format of the book, and parts of the way it is written meant that I sometimes found it difficult to follow. I had to go back and check which timeframe I was in sometimes, or even just read ahead and hope that it would eventually become clear. But this is part of the magic of the book, the darting around between time and subjects is part of what really helps you understand who Mina really is, someone who is different, not bad, not wrong, just different. Verdict: Compelling reading for both children and adults who will come away having learnt a lot, maybe even about themselves. Reviewed by Alison