Foxlight by Katya Balen

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Fen and Rey are foundlings. Left as babies near The Light House, they grow up with a history of a mother who left them with foxes; a mother who lived in the Wildlands. The two red-headed girls are entwined, with different talents related to the natural world, but always they hanker for their story and identity to be made clear. Their life in The Light House is simple, with a collection of other foundlings and Lissa who is their carer, but always the call of the wild lingers, and the appearance of a fox stirs their desire to escape. Will they be able to discover their identity and find their mother?

This is a story of the ache of children with no real identity, it is full of the melancholy of loss. The girls share stories to make up for the absence of their own story. Consequently, it is almost heart-breaking to hear inside the hearts of those who feel that they do not belong and who need to weave their own make-believe stories to lighten their view of their world. The girls have each other, and their sibling bond is strong, and Fen also has a powerful desire (expressed with the sighting of the fox) to live free in the Wildlands, a place that seems to be attempting to return the land to its natural state. This unexpected environmental thread is understated but is just an expression of being connected to the natural world. Balen’s writing style is spare, and simple, but also very atmospheric. It creates an emotional and heart-rending depth that is unusual in a children’s book. It is not so sad though that children would be distressed as they read. As many children’s authors hide serious issues with other light-hearted threads, this book is different as it is always serious in tone. The girls’ quest does lead to a moving conclusion, but not what might be expected.

Recommended for readers aged 9-11.

Themes: Orphans, Foxes, Wilderness, Family, Dreams.

Carolyn Hull