Not As We Know It by Tom Avery

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Illustrated by Kate Grove.

Published by Andersen Press, 2015.

In this wonderfully moving and beautifully written book, Tom Avery once again explores the themes of sibling love and grief. Ned and Jamie are twins. They are inseparable. Huge Star Trek fans, they are always on a mission for a new adventure. However, Ned has cystic fibrosis and it’s steadily getting worse. They live by the coast and enjoy searching the beach to see what treasures have been washed ashore. Usually it’s just shoes, bones, children’s toys… but one day they find a strange alien-like sea creature amongst the seaweed. They name him Leonard, take him home and keep him hidden from their parents, a secret.

And so it begins – their biggest adventure yet. Who or what is Lenoard? Where has he come from? Why is he here?

Jamie is wary of Leonard and not sure if he’s dangerous. Ned seems to connect with Leonard immediately. When Leonard reaches out and touches Ned’s chest, Jamie begins to hope that Leonard is here to save Ned, to cure him. As the bond between Leonard and Ned strengthens, Jamie feels shut out and struggles with feelings of jealousy.

The boys come closer to understanding who Leonard might be when they spend time with their grandad, a retired seaman. Talk turns to tales of the sea: mythical stories of merpeople and Atargatis, and Grandad’s own stories of mystical sea people.

Grandad’s stories of mermaids and mermen foreshadow the ending and from fairly early on I was pretty sure I knew where the story was heading. Yet, despite bracing myself for the inevitable conclusion, the emotional force of it still left me reeling and I sobbed over the final scenes.

Kate Grove beautifully illustrated Tom Avery’s previous novel, My Brother’s Shadow, and here once again her illustrations are a delight. Flotsam and jetsam, shells and seaweed swirl around the pages of Not As We Know It. There are full double page and single page illustrations too, depicting key scenes from the story. Sometimes they stand alone, at other times the words and pictures intertwine.

Tom Avery is a master storyteller. His prose is beautiful and evocative. Characters are nuanced, relationships believable. I enjoyed how the different stories were layered together; Grandad’s mythical tales of the oceans and Star Trek‘s glimpses of new worlds combined with Ned and Jamie’s adventure creating a rich, multi-faceted story. I have loved both of Tom Avery’s books and eagerly await his next.

Rating: 💙💙💙💙💙

Suitable for children aged 8+

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