Follow Me Down

Follow Me Down is the debut novel from Julie Hearn, formerly a journalist and one of Philip Pullman’s creative writing students. This book deserves attention – it is quite simply one of the most original and compelling books from a new author since Nicky Singer’s Feather Boy. This is the story of Tom, a well-rounded and articulate teenage boy who, along with his sick mother, goes to stay with his gran, a troubled, private woman. Here, following disembodied voices that lead him to his gran’s dingy basement, he stumbles across a gap in time, a way into the past. And what a past it is – 18th-century England in all its glory – a time when grave robbers abound and punters pay good money to see ‘monsters’ like ‘The Changeling Child’ and ‘The Gorilla Woman’ in the subterranean freak shows; a violent, brutal world where appearances are everything and being different is not tolerated. Hearn weaves a disturbing yet compelling tale and her plot races along at breakneck speed, keeping the reader enthralled. Her writing is so good you often forget you are reading, you get so caught up in her strange, freaky world. As the tale unfolds, Tom forges a close relationship with Astra, the ethereal ‘Changeling Child’ and the other ‘monsters’, and by helping them learns a lot about himself and his own life. I found the ending of the book somewhat disappointing: the complex relationship between Tom’s mother and his gran is never really dealt with, and the influence of his grandad, a shadowy character, on the family history is too easily explained away. However, in Tom, Hearn has created a strong, thoughtful and realistic hero, her ultimate triumph. Highly recommended.