A Stranger at Greene Knowe by Lucy Boston: Carnegie Medal winner
Fourth book in the Green Knowe Chronicles series
Overall rating: 9/10
Quality of writing: 10/10
Concerning content (language, violence, etc.): low
Difficulty: 4/10 Age level: 8 and up
The fourth book in the Green Knowe Chronicles series brings back familiar protagonists from earlier books: Ping, the displaced Chinese boy; and Granny Oldknow, Tolly’s story-telling grandmother. However, the most unique character is the gorilla Hanno, who befriends Ping after escaping from the London Zoo. Full of Boston’s characteristic descriptive writing, the story incorporates environmentalist elements without being overly preachy and ends with a bittersweet conclusion that will tug at the emotions of any reader.
The plot is driven by Ping’s continued efforts to hide Hanno from the hunters and zoo employees; however, this only becomes apparent halfway through the book, showcasing Boston’s characteristic focus on the story’s atmosphere rather than its plot. However, apart from the length of time it takes for the main plot to be revealed, the storyline as a whole is engaging and enjoyable. The conclusion also brings more closure than some of Boston’s other books, but ends on a decidedly bittersweet note. Overall, the plot has both positive and negative attributes, and merits a 7.5/10 rating.
The story focuses primarily on the relationship between Ping and Hanno, making these two characters the most developed. Boston especially develops Ping as a character by having him make several difficult decisions, including whether to hide Hanno or not, and whether to tell Granny Oldknow about Hanno or not. These instances really help define the reader’s understanding of Ping in the context of the story. Boston also develops Hanno as a character, while making it clear that she is not simply anthropomorphizing him (that is, giving an animal human qualities). Hanno is shown to be intelligent and capable of caring for people (such as Ping), and not “an ugly great brute” as most people in the story consider him. Overall, Boston does an excellent job of developing her characters (both animal and human). (9/10)
This book is not a difficult read, although some readers could find Boston’s highly descriptive style confusing. A Stranger at Green Knowe also has fewer flashbacks than the previous books in the series (there is only one, at the beginning of the story), making it more readable than many of the other Green Knowe Chronicles books. (4/10)
Quality of writing
Throughout the book, Boston uses descriptive analogies and onomatopoeia to build a unique atmosphere that few other books possess. Characters, places, and events are described in such evocative detail that the reader can almost imagine they are experiencing them for themselves. For example, a thicket of bamboo is described: “there was a surprisingly insistent buzz of insects throughout the whole wood, not loud but vibrating, like the heat shimmer off the earth… the over-all hum seemed to emphasize the quietness.” Another plus is Boston’s careful handling of elements that could be considered overly environmentalist and preachy in a different context. We see this in the first section of the book, when Boston describes Hanno’s capture by British explorers in the African jungle but avoids incorporating accusatory overtones and instead focuses on the action itself. Throughout A Stranger at Green Knowe, Boston not only tells a remarkable story through uniquely descriptive language, but also handles complex elements within the story with admirable tact. (10/10)
A Stranger at Green Knowe does deal with somewhat more complex and mature issues than other books in the Green Knowe Chronicles series, including environmentalism and the issue of when (if ever) it is right to lie. However, as with other issues, Boston does an excellent job of keeping the book age-appropriate: on the whole, these factors should not pose an issue for most readers. The book does also contain two scenes with some violence: the scene in which Hanno’s gorilla parents are killed and he is captured; and the scene in which Hanno kills a charging cow to save Ping and is subsequently killed himself. While these scenes do undoubtedly contain mild to moderate violence, no humans are killed, and the scenes are crucial to the development of the plot overall. Readers and parents of readers should exercise their own judgement in these areas.
While A Stranger at Green Knowe does reference slightly more mature issues than other books in the series, Boston handles them in an age-appropriate manner; the style is about the same level of difficulty as other books in the series. Overall, this book is recommended for ages 8 and up.