Secrets Destroy You. The Truth Sets You Free.
What is the most dangerous secret of all? For fifteen-year-old Dany, is it the shame that his once-vital mother now suffers mutely from “the staring sickness?” Or is it that Count Pol, the corrupt absolute ruler of Western Gottika, may be scouting the city clandestinely for teenage girls to kidnap and ravish? Could the worst secret be the mystery behind why all the kids in the Estat are only children? Or could it be that Dany’s father possesses the secret knowledge of how to bring clay to life, and transform it into a terrifying weapon – an all-powerful Gol?
When Dany’s father is framed for the brutal murder of Gottika’s Princess Avivia, Dany is forced to confront all of these secrets. But that won’t be enough. In order to save his father, he’ll have to go still deeper. He’ll have to uncover his own family’s secret, one even darker and more disturbing than the rest.
The worst lies, after all, are the ones we tell ourselves. Gottika reimagines a powerful Jewish legend as a futuristic fantasy with a universal message.
Writing about sensitive subjects for kids can be tough. If you are too sombre, you run the risk of turning off your reader. Too flip, and you invite accusations of irreverence. With Gottika, Helaine Becker ably blends a futuristic science fiction version of the persecution of Jewish people during the war with legend and folklore, breaking down some difficult topics with sensitivity and understanding.
There’s something for every reader in Becker’s latest novel – historical influences that will invite discussion, steam punk elements to delight the sci-fi/fantasy reader and magical elements to engage the imagination. Indeed, the inclusion of the much revered folklore of the golem adds an extra dimension to the tale.
Within the main storyline, the parallels to the Holocaust are unmistakable, and it’s a tribute to Becker’s writing style that she is able to portray the injustices in her own words and in her own world, while still instilling the feelings of frustration, fear and prejudice in the reader. Dany’s viewpoint allows the reader to experience life under oppression, and his actions are logical and authentic for a fifteen year old, especially one who is feeling both anxious and embittered about his life under the oppressed rule of the cruel Count Pol. His father’s actions to raise the gol in order to defend the Stoon people are bewitching, and transform him from a world-weary man to something otherworldly and powerful. The golem – Moishe – is raised for a purpose, and he not only defends the Stoons but also galvanizes them into action.
A word about the format: Gottika is presented in both text and graphic form, and there are key moments in the story that are presented in wordless visual form. I loved this change, as it almost suggested that the emotion of the events was too much for words, and could only be felt by witnessing it yourself. It’s also a great technique for less confident readers, encouraging them to continue to connect with the story, and giving a sometimes necessary visual break during an intense situation.
Overall, this is a very powerful story. Younger readers may benefit from some guided reading, especially for some of the more mature events, but the story encourages discussion throughout. This is a fabulous tale, filled with myths and legends, action and emotion, as well as history and imagination, and it’s one that will keep readers entertained and informed throughout.
Gottika by Helaine Becker is published by Dancing Cat Books, the young readers imprint of Cormorant Books, and a copy was provided by the publisher for this blog tour in exchange for an honest review. It is available for purchase from your favourite independent bookseller, and other fine book retailers. To find your closest independent bookseller, please click here. ISBN: 9781770863910, 240 pages.