Book Quote:

“My life might have been so different, had I not been known as the girl whose grandmother exploded. And had I not been born in Bad Munstereifel. If we had lived in the city – well, I’m not saying the event would have gone unnoticed, but the fuss would probably only have lasted a week before public interest moved elsewhere.”

Book Review:

Review by Lynn Harnett  (OCT 10, 2010)

Even in these dramatic opening lines, British author Grant’s first novel has a beguiling, self-absorbed, coming-of-age tone well suited to its appealing 10-year-old narrator, Pia Kolvenbach. Pia is actually recalling these events from young adulthood, seven years later; a distance that allows a certain wry humor in her approach to her younger self, while retaining the immediacy of her traumatic experiences.

Daughter of an English mother and German father, Pia has enjoyed an uneventful childhood in the tiny, ancient, comfortably hidebound town of Bad Munstereifel. This comes to an abrupt end when her grandmother accidentally sets herself on fire lighting the last Advent candle at the family celebration the Sunday before Christmas.

By the time Pia gets back to school the tragic event has taken on sensational proportions. Rumor has turned her grandmother into a gruesome bomb and the morbidly excited children have banded together, shunning Pia in case “the exploding” is catching. The only child who steps up to befriend her is the class’ most unpopular member, StinkStefan, whose parents are the town drunks.

Mortified, Pia attempts to ignore him, but it’s lonely having no friends and when kindly old Herr Schiller invites them both to his house for cakes and coffee, Pia capitulates. She had often gone to visit Herr Schiller with her grandmother and loves his embroidered tales of olden days, when the old mill was full of ghosts, witches and demons and only Unshockable Hans could bear to live there, unafraid of the disembodied groans, howls and menaces.

Then a child disappears at Karneval– Katharina Linden, dressed up as Snow White – and Pia, enthralled by fairy tales and folklore, thinks the disappearance must be supernatural. “How else could she have been spirited away from under the very noses of her family, in broad daylight too, in a town where everyone knew everyone else?”

Inspired by the tales of Unshockable Hans, and wishing to be the center of more admiring and envying attention at school (one particularly malicious bully has suggested that Katharina cannot be found because she “caught” the exploding and ended up in little unidentifiable bits), Pia begins to wonder if she could discover what happened to Katharina.

When another girl disappears and Pia and Stefan (who is inspired by action movies as well as folktales) discover that these mysterious events echo a similar disappearance years before they were born, they determine to do some investigating on their own.

Meanwhile hysteria rises in the small town, as parents are afraid to let their children out of their sight. Tensions mount between Pia’s parents as her mother – who has never really gotten the hang of Bad Munstereifel – clamors to move to England, a proposition resisted by Pia as much as by her father.

The children’s efforts – spying on witches and more corporal suspects – builds to a white-knuckled climax terrifyingly rooted in reality, all the more shocking for the contrast between children’s dark fantasies and the even darker dangers of reality.

Grant was inspired to write this novel by the actual town of Bad Munstereifel, where she lived for seven years. She found the town and its lore (including Unshockable Hans) magical – which doesn’t stop her from pegging the artful spite of the town gossip – and her novel is steeped in place and custom. Grant weaves German holiday traditions into the narrative and makes the insularity and neighborliness of such a tiny village integral to the plot.

Grant’s debut is an odd, beguiling, terrifying novel, rich in atmosphere, with an honest and plucky heroine. Readers will look forward to finding out where Grant goes next in her second novel, The Glass Demon, to be published next year.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 42 readers
PUBLISHER: Delacorte Press; 1 edition (August 10, 2010)
REVIEWER: Lynn Harnett
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: More children that go missing:

Also by Helen Grant:


October 10, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Coming-of-Age, Debut Novel, Germany, Mystery/Suspense, Speculative (Beyond Reality)

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