Skip to main content

Samuel Blink and the Forbidden Past


Samuel Blink and the Forbidden Past

Considering that Matt Haig's first two novels for adults, THE DEAD FATHERS CLUB and THE LAST FAMILY IN ENGLAND (to be published in the United States in 2008), were told from the point of view of a young boy and of a dog, respectively, it's probably not too surprising that this immensely talented literary newcomer should eventually turn his attention to a children's book featuring --- you guessed it --- a young boy and a dog.

SAMUEL BLINK AND THE FORBIDDEN FOREST is a sparkling juvenile debut by a writer who understands how children think --- his sense of fantasy is simultaneously playful and sinister, and his sophisticated tone and themes ensure that kids won't feel patronized (and that grownups who pick up the book won't be disappointed either).

Anyone who reads the extensive (and hilarious) cast of characters at the novel's opening won't be too surprised that Samuel and Martha Blink's parents are horrifically and suddenly killed before the end of chapter one. Following this accident, Samuel and Martha, who has become mute with grief, are sent to Norway to live with an aunt they've never met.

Aunt Eda lives alone with her elkhound Ibsen. Set in her ways, mourning the mysterious disappearance of her husband Henrik, Aunt Eda is, as Samuel puts it, "a person buttoned right to the top." One of the first things she gives to Samuel and Martha is a list of rules. The most important one? "NEVER --- UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES --- GO INTO THE FOREST."

Living as she does at the edge of the mysterious, menacing forest, though, Aunt Eda underestimates its appeal for children. When Martha, fascinated by the dark woods' strange, dark beauty, wanders off, Samuel (with Ibsen at his side) must gather all his courage in order to find her. Armed only with Professor Horatio Tanglewood's book THE CREATURES OF SHADOW FOREST, Samuel has to discover the secrets of good and evil in order to survive the woods’ many traps. As for Martha, she must find her voice if the children are to have any hope of outwitting the forest's evils and the wicked Changemaker who orchestrates them. And even Aunt Eda has to break her own rules in order to find and save those she loves most.

With humorous asides, occasional interruptions from the author and a playful storytelling style, SAMUEL BLINK AND THE FORBIDDEN FOREST is likely to appeal to fans of Lemony Snicket's novels. Haig's tale, however, is deeper, more complex and richer than Snicket's snarkier fare. Samuel and Martha's grief manifests itself in occasional nastiness, rudeness and depression. But that doesn't make these kids any less likable --- it just makes them real and heightens the novel's emotional stakes. Even the Changemaker has a sympathetic core, one that the children must use all their empathy to discover before it's too late.

Inspired by Norwegian folklore (and by the author's own boyhood summers in Norway), Matt Haig's debut novel for young readers is a superb, briskly plotted fantasy that will appeal both to kids and to his growing numbers of adult readers.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on June 21, 2007

Samuel Blink and the Forbidden Past
by Matt Haig

  • Publication Date: June 21, 2007
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
  • ISBN-10: 0399247394
  • ISBN-13: 9780399247392