An environmental thriller for a teen audience with positive representation of children with additional support needs, this book needs to be in every school!
This new novel from Victoria Williamson, who has been rightly acclaimed for her previous middle grade books, is aimed at a teenage audience as it details the personal journey of fourteen year-old Max, who is struggling to come to terms with total hearing loss. From the opening pages which plunge the reader into the icy North Sea alongside Max during a terrible accident on his Dad’s trawler, you are drawn into his world of alienation; feeling great empathy with his character as you begin to realise the frustration and anger behind some of his challenging behaviours.
On a remote Scottish island where Max was once one of the cool gang, proud of his physical prowess and joining in with his mates when they teased the “specials” or “zoomers” as they unkindly label the children with additional learning needs, he is now one of those children. And he is not happy about it. I think that what Victoria Williamson does so well, is that she makes the reader inhabit a character who is scared, angry, frustrated and flawed. She paints Max as an absolutely believable teenager, he is not rendered as a saintly hero just because he is now deaf, but has carried his former prejudices with him into his new reality. Feeling that his parents have replaced him with perfect baby sister Sally, not understanding why his Dad can’t be bothered to communicate in writing and irritated that his mum is always too tired to sign accurately, Max lashes out at those who are trying to help him. The narrative delicately unfolds his growing relationships with three children who have been “othered” their entire lives: David who is a wheelchair user, Beanie who has Down’s Syndrome and Erin who was born deaf. His gradual acceptance into this community is not without its ups and downs, but as their isolation provides them with the singular opportunity to save their island community, their strengths come to the fore.
You see, this is not just “an issues” novel, it is in fact a fast-paced, technological thriller with a despicable scientific-military experiment at its core. The islanders have voted to allow three huge wind turbines to be installed just off the coast; disregarding the ugly new impostors on the rugged coastline and their resultant noise pollution in favour of the promise of long awaited wifi. As the blades start turning, the local wildlife bears the first impact but then Max begins to notice inexplicable and sinister changes in the behaviour of the majority of the island’s inhabitants. As Max, Erin, Beanie and David work together to disrupt the plans of ruthless scientist Doctor Ashwood, I found myself turning the pages quicker than a turbine blade on the stormiest Highland night!
I highly recommend this novel for all secondary school librarians, both for it’s entertainment value as a gripping thriller and for the empathy-inducing portrayal of children who are often overlooked or dismissed. In the author’s notes at the end, it is stated that the novel was reviewed by the British Deaf Association to ensure that it presented a sensitive portrayal of deaf characters. As an adult reader, I was hugely impressed with the narrative and will take away new learning for my inclusivity work as a health librarian. Additionally, I can’t help seeing parallels between a white haired villain who manipulates a population to allow a change which is calculated to set neighbour against neighbour, and I imagine that this could lead to some interesting PHSE conversations.
War of the Wind will be published on September 23rd 2022, which happens to be International Day of Sign Language; 20% of author royalties are going to be donated to the British Deaf Association so pre-order your copy today. I am most grateful to Neem Tree Press for my gifted copy in return for my honest opinion.