The Hideaway by Pam Smy

Published by Pavilion Books, 2021.

The Hideaway is a wonderfully atmospheric story with an eerie graveyard setting. It combines otherworldly supernatural elements with domestic scenes of a family in trouble.

13-year-old Billy McKenna can no longer live with the violence at home and so he runs away. He takes refuge in an overgrown graveyard and hides away in an ivy-clad World War II pillbox. While hiding there he meets an elderly man who is tending the graves in preparation for All Souls’ Eve – when the souls of the dead are reunited with those they loved most.

The book is written in two alternating narratives, both different aspects of the same story. One thread tells of Billy’s experience of hiding away in the graveyard and the other tells of his mother’s situation at home and the police search for Billy.

The Hideaway is a powerful book which sensitively explores domestic abuse and the impact on its victims. Billy’s mom, Grace, is beaten by her boyfriend Jeff. We witness drunken rage, bullying and coercion. Grace and Billy live in fear; they are constantly on edge, always trying to avoid doing anything which might upset Jeff. We learn of the gradual changes in Jeff’s behaviour, how – bit by bit – he undermined and destroyed Billy and his mom’s happiness. The loss of self is powerfully depicted.

Despite this cruel and unloving relationship being at the centre of the story, the book’s message is one of hope and love. There are numerous examples of positive and uplifting human connection. Counterbalancing the domestic violence are supportive and healthy relationships. Grace’s maternal love, reciprocated by Billy, is life-affirming. The female solidarity offered to Grace, as friends and police officers rally around her, is empowering and uplifting. Finally, the advice and understanding that the old man in the graveyard gives to Billy is a lovely example of an inter-generational connection.

The book has been published in a stunning, beautifully designed hardback edition with shiny, black sprayed edges. Billy’s story is illustrated throughout with tonal and textured black and white drawings, until the event on All Souls’ Eve, when the text gives way to a series of double-page images of the supernatural events.

The Hideaway is a poignant and powerful story about love and loss, and finding the strength to overcome trauma.

Rating: 💙💙💙💙💙

Suitable for children aged 10+

Thank you to Pavilion Books for sending me this book to review.

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