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The Stone Balancer ISBN: 9781785913624
Townsend, John
Published by Ransom Publishing, 2017
Fin is about to be 14. A bit of a loner and a chap who likes to build towers of stone on the local beach, he is also profoundly deaf. He doesn't admit this to us in his own words until three-quarters of the way through the novel, but there are plenty of signs along the way. His lip-reading is first rate, but he can also sign when necessary, and his special needs teacher tries to get him to wear his hearing aids - which he doesn't like. As he was 3 when he became deaf, he can talk perfectly well. He and his single mum are very close, and when she develops Myelodysplasia (MDS - a serious blood disorder) and must go into hospital for treatment, he is faced with living with his awful Uncle Calvin and his equally awful partner Jasmine. He has also just lost his grandfather to whom he was very close. That is the background to what turns into a remarkable murder mystery with all sorts of ramifications. In the process, he meets a young girl with Cerebral Palsy, Sophie, and her grandmother, who runs a sort of hospital for sick and injured animals. No one will believe Fin and Sophie about the body on the beach, so they must solve the mystery themselves - which they do, but not before lots of adventures, many of them of a violent nature. This is a really grown-up set of happenings involving smugglers of a very different sort of contraband, villains both obvious and not, a small seaside town (probably in Cornwall), and two young people who don't let their disabilities stop them. We learn lots about being deaf and how it feels, lots about MDS and the stem cell transplant that Fin's mum must have, something about Cerebral Palsy (Sophie uses a wheelchair most of the time, but sticks for short journeys - the only time I found this a tad unbelievable was when she and Fin take a trek down a long underground passage!) and plenty about nasty Uncle Calvin. There are fights between him and Fin, and he is a seriously mad Dickensian figure who lies, cheats and ultimately kills Fin's beloved kitten. In fact, while most of the violence in the book could be handled by any child, the killing of the kitten means it's not for the overly sensitive or vulnerable. Having said that, it is a first-class read, full of adventure and ultimate hope - a real page-turner! I particularly liked the ending when we know that mum is getting better although not out of the woods yet (realistic, this) and that Fin feels he has grown up and found some true friends. Great stuff!
Age: 11+