We loved A.F. Harrold’s The Imaginary, and we excited to learn he had a new book on the way. This time Harrold has teamed up with illustrator Levi Pinfold and the result, The Song From Somewhere Else, is a breathtaking novel for ages 8-12.
When we first meet Frank, she is feeling concerned. In her heart of hearts, she’s scared her missing cat, the excellently named Quintilius Minimus, might never come back. As she’s putting up ‘missing cat’ posters, Frank is ambushed by the school bullies, and her mind (and legs) turn to jelly. We get our first real look into Frank’s mind – and we can relate.
Frank’s rescuer comes from a very unexpected place. Nick Underbridge is the least popular boy in their class, mocked by everyone because he’s different. When he and Frank attempt to escape the bullies together, they end up running back at the Underbridge home, where Frank’s adventure really begins. Frank feels weird about hanging out with the big, kinda strange kid that everyone calls ‘Stinker,’ but as she’s getting ready to make a hasty retreat, Frank hears some music. It’s beautiful, and like nothing she has ever heard before. Although she runs home, Frank can’t shake the haunting melody.
Soon Frank is drawn back to the Underbridge home, and into an unexpected (especially to her) friendship with the gentle giant Nick. Before long she learns the secret to the mysterious music, and to Nick, and Frank soon realises the world is a very different place – and that she is braver than she ever thought possible.
“And eventually the worlds shifted apart, the window faded away and the music moved beyond the limits of Frank’s hearing, and the two of them were sat in the dim cellar in friendly silence. The stony, earthy forest floor smell filled her lungs like lemonade, as harmless stray shadows curled in the corner like mice. This was turning out to be one strange summer holiday, Frank thought.”
This book really surprised us. At some moments it’s quite dark – anyone who has ever been bullied will find their heart in their throat – and at others, so tender it will bring a tear to your eye. A.F. Harrold clearly also has a wicked sense of humour (you can see more of it in our interview with him here), which peeks through in The Song From Somewhere Else from time to time, especially inside Frank’s head.
We loved Frank as a character, she feels genuine and flawed, and even at times unsympathetic – we see that in her head, she’s been just as mean to Nick as the other kids, and she makes choices we as readers may certainly disagree with. Yet as the story progresses we watch Frank come into her own, learn some of Nick’s kindness and find her inner courage. Nick remains steadfast in his generosity and warmth, and their friendship grows into something very special.
The emotions in the book are echoed beautifully in Pinfold’s perfectly utilised black and white illustrations throughout. They create a surreal atmosphere, especially as the story takes a mystical turn, and help the character’s emotions to pack a serious punch. We spoke to Levi Pinfold about his process of illustrating the book, his distinctive style and more here.
It’s challenging to describe just how magical The Song From Somewhere Else is. Not only does it have an almost surreal story with a very genuine heroine, but Pinfold’s atmospheric illustrations really bring Harrold’s imaginative world to life. This quirky, wonderful book would make a great gift for older readers aged 8-12, and is a real testament to the power of friendship, family, and fantasy.
(all images credited to Levi Pinfold)