Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster - Jonathan Auxier

Summary: For nearly a century, Victorian London relied on "climbing boys"--orphans owned by chimney sweeps--to clean flues and protect homes from fire. The work was hard, thankless and brutally dangerous. Eleven-year-old Nan Sparrow is quite possibly the best climber who ever lived--and a girl. With her wits and will, she's managed to beat the deadly odds time and time again. 

But when Nan gets stuck in a deadly chimney fire, she fears her time has come. Instead, she wakes to find herself in an abandoned attic. And she is not alone. Huddled in the corner is a mysterious creature--a golem--made from ash and coal. This is the creature that saved her from the fire. 

Sweep is the story of a girl and her monster. Together, these two outcasts carve out a life together--saving one another in the process. (image and summary from

My Review: Call me strange, but several years ago I did some research on chimney sweeps for a book I wanted to write.  Ever since then, sweeps have been on my radar, so when I heard about Auxier's book that had both a sweep AND a monster, well.  There you go, I was sold.

This book was so tight.  Auxier is a masterful storyteller, especially with his historical fiction.  I read another of his books, The Night Gardener, and felt the same way.  He is able to capture the history and feel of the past that makes it accessible and also understandable.  In the circumstances for this book, it's 1800s London, and the vast use of climbing boys and girls to clean out chimneys.

I loved our main character, Nan.  She is a climbing girl, and as such, is always going up chimneys for her job.  This was a dangerous position to be in, however, and many young children were seriously injured or died.  But Nan is a tough girl, and despite the danger, she loves her job, particularly when she can be on a roof and see all of London.  I love how Auxier told her story and crafted her character, she felt very real to me.

Auxier weaves in memories of Nan when she was younger and in the care of a gentle, loving Sweep. Before he left, he gave her a gift to watch over her, a small piece of char, or coal, which we later discover is our monster--Charlie.

Charlie was adorable.  He's a golem, a creature from Jewish mythology, that Nan works to protect and teach as he grows up much like a child.  I loved his view of the world and how he saw things.  I called him a monster earlier, the title calls him a monster, but he is not a monster in the sense most people see the word. He is gentle, childlike and caring.  Nan and Charlie's friendship was so pure and so true and it tied this story together so well.

I also loved the quiet pacing of this story.  There was still danger and high stakes as well as harsh circumstances, but the story was able to weave its way along in this almost old fashioned telling that I found very appealing.  A very well deserving book that explores friendship, chimney sweeps, Jewish culture, and change.

My Rating: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: Nan live in a harsh world, and she and other climbers are put in dangerous situations.  This story also deals with death.   

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