Jonathan Auxier’s SWEEP: A Truly Magical Read

Cindy: Every so often, and not often enough, a book sweeps me off my feet and makes me want to curl up and read it straight through. Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster (2018) is one of those books.Part historical fiction, part Jewish mythology, and part magical realism, this tale of a young chimney sweep and her golem will make you laugh and cry and cheer for the children. Nan Sparrow was raised by the kindly Sweep, but after he disappeared she had no choice but to throw her lot in with the horrible sweep master, Wilkie Crudd.

The life of a chimney sweep in Victorian London was hard and dangerous, as fiction has always portrayed it. When fellow sweeps torment Nan with the Devil’s Nudge treatment, setting fire to a chimney she is cleaning, she is saved from death by the char in her pocket. A gift left behind for her by Sweep, her char has always kept her warm, but this time, something truly magical happens—and so begins a new friendship with Charlie, a soot and ash golem. Nan lets Mr. Crudd believe she died in the chimney fire, and for a while she is safe, but that doesn’t last. She and Charlie work to protect each other, but that is dangerous work as well. There are many stories that expose the plight of child labor, but Auxier spins one that is wholly original and splendidly written. This tale would transfer well to the big screen, but I’m really grateful it’s a book. I’d love to cover up some of the smoky sky with a shiny sticker come January . . .

Lynn: Auxier, like the master storyteller he is, is doing many things with this spellbinding story. He weaves a wondrous tale that wraps readers tightly and pulls them into a world where a very special magic exists. Readers also enter a time of sweeps and mudlarks, where conditions are appalling and often children’s lives mean nothing. He explores big questions of love, courage, and sacrifice, asking what defines a monster and what it means to be human. Characters burst from the pages with life and heart: Nan and Toby; little Newt; Miss Bloom, who sees the promise in Nan; and of course, Charlie.

At the beginning of the story, Nan has done her best to wall off her heart, stay detached, and make no emotional connections. But the spark of love that burns in Charlie changes Nan.

“That’s what it is to care for a person,” Toby said. . . . “If you’re not afraid, you’re not doing it right.”

And like the best stories everywhere, this is a story to read again and again, to savor, to think about—and perhaps, to be changed by.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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