The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

I Cannot Sleep for Dreamin' (Review: Hollow Pike by James Dawson)

Hollow Pike
James Dawson
Orion 2012

Lis London is due a new start. Having fled her mother’s house in Wales after enduring a school life of systematic bullying, she finds herself safe in the comfortable home of her sister, situated in the small Yorkshire village of Hollow Pike. On starting school, Lis is instantly targeted by the It girls of the local high school, yet targeted in a way that is completely different to what she has come to expect.  The beautiful Laura and her acolytes seem to genuinely want to befriend Lis, introducing her to a life of boys, parties and money. Even as she realises that she is aligning herself with girls who so easily could have been the bullies that previously tormented her, the victim in her rejoices on being on the other side of their slings and arrows.  However, after playing with fire for a while, Lis is not surprised to find herself burnt.  Rejected and terrorised by the not so lovely Laura, she finds herself with a different group of friends – ones who aren't shy about their hatred for the local mean girls and quite ready to do something about it… When a practical joke goes horribly wrong, Lis finds herself adrift in a world of murder, mayhem and witchcraft all of which seems awfully like the nightmares that plague her: nightmares based entirely in her real life surrounds of Hollow Pike.

Lis is believably wary of her new life and new school. Being cosseted in the home of her much loved sister doesn’t automatically engender feelings of safeness but she attacks her first day at school with an admirable strength, something that develops further as the story progresses. Her desire to keep in with the school mean girls even as she sees them in all their bitchy reality is an accurate representation of a former victim very nearly becoming the image of those who bullied them – something often seen and easily understood. However, Li has a conscience that refuses to allow her to stand back and watch and eventually leads to her finding friends who are similarly outcast, yet far from victimised. She’s a great character, believable, funny and full of common sense, even as her story moves towards a far darker core.

Her friends, Delilah, Kitty and Jack are also believable as outsiders.  However, where Lis has previously run from her problems, these three face them head on and their particular brand of snark and strength is a lot of fun to read.  However, they (and Lis, by default) are far from perfect and their willingness to play an incredibly cruel trick on their enemies again reflects on the often vacillating line between bully and victim.  However, the friendship between the four is palpably real and often touching.  Lis also builds a tentative friendship with local boy Danny and this is, again, relatable for anyone who has ever swooned under the weight of their first crush.  Danny, while being in possession of the obligatory good looks, is entirely believable as a teenage boy and his initial attempts at getting to know Lis better are both cringeworthy and delightful.

In fact, the strength of Hollow Pike is in its teenage characters.  They are all so real.  Laura, resident queen bee, is mean without being particularly clever about it; the boys are likable but tactless, full to the brim of bravura and bad innuendos; Kitty, Delilah and Jack embrace the role of outsiders a little too much, enjoying their own private rebellions and Lis flounders around in the midst of teenage angst, first love and the horror that can be high school for so many.  All of this glorious reality is set against a story that is classically paranormal – full of witches and crows and things that go bump in the night.  It’s a lot of fun and there are sections that are genuinely creepy, not least a section where Lis tries to find an intruder in her quite, tree-lined house. 

Although the paranormal aspect of Hollow Pike is strong, where James Dawson has triumphed is in his portrayal of what it is to be a teenager.  Again and again he riffs on the necessity that all teenagers (not to mention adults) feel to fit in.  Both Lis and Danny spend time with people they dislike because it’s easier than being, once more, on the wrong side of the “right” crowd and both are aware of the somewhat false image they often project of who they truly are.  Kitty et al, thrust their true personalities forward and are castigated.  Knowingly referencing The Crucible (which is mentioned repeatedly), Hollow Pike uses its paranormal aspects to support the idea that bullying, isolation and cruelty repeatedly come from a place of fear of anything other on the part of the instigators with the subtext being that it is they who are weak – not their victims.

It is for this that Hollow Pike should be placed high on recommended reading lists for teenagers, their parents and any adult who once stood on either side of the fence when it came to the horror of high school.  It’s a hugely enjoyable read and one that manages to make its vitally important points without every feeling heavy handed.  Indeed, it’s written with such gleeful enthusiasm that the reader cannot help but grin wildly as they close the last page and hope for much much more from this talented new kid on the teen block.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird and is recommended as an All Hallow's Read.


CarlyB said…
This is such an amazing review, Sya! I completely agree with everything you said - you just said it way more eloquently than me.x
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