Henning Mankell is perhaps best known for his crime and mystery books featuring middle-aged detective, Kurt Wallender, but he’s also written a number of books for children. A Bridge to the Stars is the first of three books featuring eleven-year-old Joel Gustafson.
When his mother left home when he was younger his sea-faring father settled them both in a small hard-working little town in the middle of Sweden. Despite being a semi-rural town, there is a sense of claustrophobia felt by Joel for himself and his father, that they’re not somewhere on the coast with his father (and perhaps himself,) traveling the world.
The story has a touch of the mystical about it, with Joel seeing a dog one night and following it, a dog he believes is on it’s way to the stars, this search continues on though the following nights. It is however, also, a pretty typical coming-of-age story, with Joel, falling under the spell of a charismatic new boy in town, who just wants to cause trouble in the town and control Joel.
During the story Joel gets to know a couple of slightly eccentric adults in the town, and through them, learns a little about the adult world, which then starts Joel’s own growth into the edges of that world, and who he wants to be.
The plot isn’t really anything new, but then it doesn’t do anything wrong either, I can see readers of around Joel’s age really enjoying struggles with his new ‘friend’ but what I enjoyed about this one the most was the wonderful atmosphere Mankell portrays, the cold wilds of Joel’s home, and his longing to know more about his mother is really palpable.
There’s some really lovely writing in this one.