Book Review: Bearmouth
Written by Liz Hyder
Published by Pushkin Press
19th September 2019 (hardback)
2nd April 2020 (paperback)
Summary (from Goodreads🙂
‘One of the most ambitious and darkly brilliant YA books I’ve read. It’s provocative, tender, claustrophobic and epic. It blew my mind’ Kiran Millwood Hargrave
It only taykes one person to start a revolushun
Life in Bearmouth will never change – at least that’s what people say. They work hard to bring wealth to the Master, toiling in dark mines and brutal conditions for six long days each week.
When young friends Newt and Devlin start to question the system, they set in motion a chain of events that could destroy their entire world.
But freedom is worth fighting for.
Theres power in the air on payday. You feels it cracklin, whisslin down the sharfts and tunnels.
Tis dangeruss, lyke one spark could lyte up the hole mine. Us youngs steer clear o the men when they come back layte.
First impressions: I knew very little about this book when I first spotted it online. I hadn’t heard many recommendations, but the summary had me hooked as soon as I read it on Goodreads.
When Pushkin Press offered me a review copy (just after I had reserved a copy at my library!) I leapt at the chance and started reading as soon as it arrived through my door.
I read Bearmouth in a state of high tension, finding myself unable to put it down as I became increasingly worried about what was going to happen to our main character, Newt.
Newt is a unique and immediately-engaging protagonist as they introduce you to the dark and claustrophobic world of Bearmouth mine, where men work for years without ever seeing the light of the sun or going aboveground. Humans are being punished by the Mayker, destined to stay underground until there is a sign that they are forgiven and can come back up to the surface.
Having been lucky enough to visit some slate mines in Wales while on a school trip there, I can attest to the chilled underground atmosphere, full of damp, unexplained noises and danger at every turn, particularly when working with explosives. Hearing the stories of families who have spent generations working the mines was really awe-inspiring.
Life in Bearmouth mine is tough, full of the tension between people forced to live in close quarters, unexpected cave-ins and illnesses caused by inhaling the coal dust.
This book is unlike anything else I have read before and I was completely gripped!
I recommend that you set the time aside to give this book a read and allow yourself to be immersed into Newt’s world.
Why dyou mayke up these storyes? says Devlin. Why dyou mayke them up? Theyre fayree tales for ones smaller than these.
Thomas turns to him, thawtful lyke. It passes the time, he says. Tis tales o dreams an hopes. What is man if he cannot dream? If he cannot use his maginayshun to brayke free o a fysical cage? What is man if he cannot hope?
What I liked: The dark and forbidding atmosphere of the mines, the friendships and relationships between the miners, particularly how Thomas takes care of the Youngs, Newt’s honest and raw voice.
Even better if: Cannot think of anything! It does require a bit of perseverance at the beginning until you get used to Newt’s language – I found that reading it out loud really helped!
How you could use it in your classroom: I can imagine this being quite a tough text to use in the classroom, due to how it is written. As a dark story, I would definitely recommend it for middle to upper secondary classes rather than primary. It would be fascinating to have the classes look at other examples of books written using dialect/ non-standard spelling (e.g. Bloodtide, THe Knife of Never Letting Go, etc) and think about the effect that has on the reader. This would be effective in a creative writing course for adults too.
Read all about the author’s inspiration for this book on the Pushkin Press website.
(Thank you to Pushkin Press for my review copy!)
What did other people think?
Sissi @Sissi Reads says:
“It is dark, raw, gritty and totally original.”
Marie @MarieMcWilliams.com says:
“On the surface, it is a book about friendship, loyalty and freedom but at its core it deals with the heavy subjects of capitalism, corrupt governments and organised religion with this novel being scathing about all three.”
Mary @Live and Deadly says:
“Bearmouth is an intense, highly memorable and absolutely gripping debut novel. It offers a harrowing tale of children working down mines, but there is so much in it that has resonance for today. ”
Thanks for reading!