Joe Quinn's poltergeist by David Almond

cover image

Illus. by Dave McKean. Walker Books, 2019. ISBN: 9781406363197. 80 pgs.
(Age: 12+) Highly recommended. Themes: Ghosts, Death, Grief, Beliefs, Coming of age. This dark, atmospheric graphic novel will grab the reader's attention right from the first time the strange face with its gaping mouth on the front cover is glimpsed. This is the fourth collaboration by Almond and McKean, (Mouse bird snake wolf, Slog's dad, and The savage) and as one would expect from two such outstanding artists, it is stunning.
Davie is on the cusp of moving from childhood into his teen years. He is interested Josephine Minto, and isn't sure of his beliefs about God and ghosts. When Joe Quinn boasts of having a poltergeist in his house and Davie sees bread and other objects flying through the air, deep down there is a hope that ghosts do exist as that would mean that his little sister might be one. The problem is that Joe Quinn tells stories and when the local priest is called upon to give his opinion, it turns out that he is not the holy person that one would wish for.
Almond's exploration of grief and beliefs is dark and powerful. In the introduction he writes about his childhood where St Patrick's Church was full of believers but superstitions about ghosts abounded and people flocked to Lourdes for its healing waters. And Davie's story is full of the uncertainty of a changing world, one where even the priest is questioning his spiritual beliefs.
Dave McKean's illustrations are as eye-catching and as thought-provoking as in his previous collaborations with Almond. They build on the story and give the reader a visual picture of all the characters and their surroundings. The drunken, cigarette smoking priest lurches into Joe's house, Josephine Minto shows off her tennis skills and Davie, Joe and Geordie emerge as young adults.
This is a complex and clever book, certainly not for the very young, with its dark themes and questioning of religious beliefs. It is a coming of age story, with Davie throwing off his childhood and realising that life goes on and his sister will be remembered 'in memories and words'.
Pat Pledger