Clay, by David Almond
Nobody does dreamy magical realism quite like David Almond. I'm not usually a magical realism sort of gal, but he's really something special. I think it's because his dialogue is so real you can almost hear it as you read, his storytelling is so straightforward and his prose is so matter-of-fact—he doesn't get all flowery and flashy and mystical and annoying like Francesca Lia Block.
In Clay, 13-year-old Davie and Geordie are pretty average small town 1960s kids. They're altar boys. They swipe cigarettes from their parents, occasionally steal sacramental wine from the church and get into fights with the boys from the neighboring town.
They only fear one thing: Mouldy. He's the leader of the other gang—huge, vicious and usually drunk.
Enter Stephen Rose. He comes to town to live with his aunt, Crazy Mary. Rumors abound: His father died suddenly, his mother went mad. The local priest, Father O'Mahoney, urges Davie and Geordie to befriend Stephen Rose. And they do.
The boys learn that the new boy is a gifted sculptor. Geordie loses interest, partly because he's... not interested... but also because Stephen Rose obviously doesn't want to be his friend. He only wants Davie. And then he lets Davie in on his secret: Stephen Rose has the power to bring his creations to life, and he thinks that Davie has the same talent.
Somehow, David Almond manages to explore good and evil, creation and destruction, religion, families, friends and responsibility in less than 250 pages. Not only that, but he does it without ever being heavy-handed, preachy or moralistic. He just tells his story. Brilliant.
The time period, the religious aspects and the Angry Young Man made me think of The Butcher Boy, which was strange. Fans of David Almond's previous books will enjoy, though I think this one is even darker than Skellig and Kit's Wilderness. (I haven't read Heaven Eyes yet, so I can't compare that one. Yet.)