Walls by Emma Fischel

The Blurb On The Back:

Ned Harrison Arkle-Smith had a good life – a perfect family, a true best friend, and a brilliant secret den – but now everything is ruined!  Suddenly his mum and dad want to build a wall right through the middle of his home, Bill has made other friends, and his new neighbour has taken over his special place.

Ned is definitely, completely, totally not happy about this.  Until the night he loses his temper and something amazing happens.  Something that means maybe he can get everyone to come back round to his way of thinking … 

You can order Walls by Emma Fischel From The Front Line To The Home Front by National Geographic Kids from Amazon USAAmazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Ned Arkle-Smith’s life has been ruined.  Everything used to be perfect: okay, so his parents argued a lot but they all lived together in a wonderful large house called Ivy Cottage that Ned loves, his best friend William “Bill” Egg used to do everything he told him to do and he had a wonderful secret den down by the river near his house.  

But at the start of the summer holidays his parents decided to split up and rather than his dad move into a new house, he and Ned’s mum divided Ivy Cottage in two.  Ned and his elder sister Grace and younger sister Isabel have to split their time between spending alternate weeks on each side of the house.  Ned’s furious because nothing in the house looks or feels the same any more.  

Worse, because he spent the holidays away while the works were done, Bill got to know other people and make different friends and now he wants to do things that Ned has no interest in doing and he refuses to change his mind when Ned tells him to.  And as if all that isn’t enough, a new family has moved next door to Ivy Cottage and there’s a really annoying girl called Maddie Clodd who’s taken over his secret den on the river bank and who keeps telling him he’s an idiot!

It’s all so unfair!

Then Ned discovers that all that anger and frustration he has at how rotten his life has become, has given him an unexpected power: he can walk through walls!  So now he’s going to use his powers to put everything back the way it should be …

Emma Fischel’s humorous fantasy novel for children aged 9+ is a clever, funny book about a boy who struggles with change, anxiety and his parents’ divorce and who decides that he’s going to use his magical powers to punish and bully rather than for good.  I especially liked the fact that Ned is really difficult to like for a lot of the book and a lot of the fun comes from his slow realisation about how unpleasant he is and how he reacts to that.

Told from Ned’s point of view, Fischel does that rare thing in children’s fiction and has a main character who the reader can see is really not a nice person at all but has them believe that they are the perfectly reasonable hero.  It’s a difficult trick to pull off but Fischel manages it, especially because she slowly seeds through the book the reasons why Ned is the way he is – some of it perfectly understandable (such as his parents’ divorce), some of it very relatable (because really, who hasn’t wanted their friends to do exactly what you want them at some point?) and some of it a little wacky (such as Ned’s phobia, which I won’t spoil).  

Fischel gives Ned a perfect note of incredulity when people don’t do what he wants them to do and Maddie Clodd voices many of the reader’s feelings about his behaviour as she witnesses it, which I thought was a neat touch (and makes her very relatable too).  I thought Ned’s reaction to his wall boggling power was very natural in this context – far from using it to battle crime, he’s out to reset the scales in his favour by playing pranks on those who he feels have wronged him.  

Where I admired Fischel’s writing came from the way I increasingly felt sorry for Ned as I came to understand why he was so desperate to hold onto his friendship with Bill.  A scene where he overhears Bill talking with two children who he was previously friends and learns what they think about his behaviour is really well done, as is the slow reveal of what happened between him and Snapper (a boy who frequently bullies and pranks Ned).  I also believed in the slightly helpless reaction his parents had to his behaviour about the house – the guilt they feel at splitting up and the haplessness they feel at not knowing what to do to make things better for him given that he’s so determined not to adjust.  At the same time, I think many children reading this will understand Ned’s own helplessness at the divorce and his confused feelings about what this means for him and his life. 

Fischel neatly uses a diary belonging to one of Ned’s ancestors to help him re-evaluate his behaviour – particularly well done, given that she too starts off appearing as a prankster and it’s only as she goes further and further that Ned realises how rotten she’s been, which in turns feeds into the doubts about his own behaviour.

The humour works well within the book, but I did wish there’d been more interaction between Ned and his sisters than what we get.  All in all though, I thought this was an entertaining read and would check out Fischel’s other books on the strength of it.  

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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