Review of Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster
by Jonathan Auxier
Intermediate    Amulet/Abrams    358 pp.
9/18    978-1-4197-3140-2    $18.99

As a “climbing girl” in Victorian London, forced up into dangerous, narrow chimneys to sweep out the soot for her abusive master, Wilkie Crudd, Nan Sparrow leads a miserable life. But she has precious memories of the Sweep, the man who cared for her — told her stories and gave her food, made her believe in magic and kept her warm — until the morning he vanished five years earlier. The Sweep left Nan two things: his hat and a small lump of heat-radiating soot she calls the “char.” One day, she gets stuck in a flue, and her nemesis Roger cruelly lights a fire to give her the “motivation” to free herself. Nan nearly dies, but when she regains consciousness, she finds that the char has saved her. The fire has awakened the soot creature; he and Nan escape from the cruel Crudd and secretly make a home in an abandoned mansion, where Nan works to protect the kind and gentle “Charlie.” As he grows to monstrous proportions, Nan must hide him from view and thus from harm, with the question always in her mind: “Had she saved Charlie? Or had Charlie saved her?” Her mudlark friend Toby tells her: “That’s how it works, doesn’t it? We are saved by saving others.” Weaving together strands of Jewish folklore (Nan calls Charlie a “soot golem”), Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, Shelley’s Frankenstein, the history of child-labor reform, and his own threads of magical realism, Auxier crafts a beautiful, hopeful story out of some ugly realities of nineteenth-century British life.

From the November/October 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
Anita L. Burkam
Anita L. Burkam
Horn Book reviewer Anita L. Burkam is former associate editor of The Horn Book Magazine.
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