Today I am honored to be part of the blog tour for Brita Sandstrom’s debut book, HOLLOW CHEST. Thanks so much to Walden Pond Press for inviting me to join!
About the Book
Debut author Brita Sandstrom arrives with a sweeping, unforgettable historical ghost story of the darkness around and inside us, and the courage it takes to keep hope alive.
Charlie has been having nightmares. Eyes watching him in the night, claws on his chest, holding him down. His dreams have been haunted for years, ever since German bombs rained down on London, taking his father’s life, taking his city’s spirit, taking his beloved brother, Theo, off to war in France.
Now Charlie is left to take care of his grandpa Fitz while his mother works, waiting for the day when Theo will come home. And with World War II nearly won, that day is almost here. Grandpa Fitz warns Charlie that soldiers sometimes come back missing a piece of themselves, but Charlie isn’t worried. Whatever Theo has lost, Charlie will help him find it.
When Theo finally does return, though, he is cold and distant. But Charlie refuses to accept that the brother he knew is gone, and soon, he discovers the reason for his brother’s change: war wolves. These are terrifying ancient beasts who consume the hearts of those broken by grief.
The wolves have followed soldiers back home from the front. And if Charlie truly wants to save Theo, he’s going to have to find them and get his brother’s heart back. But can a heart that’s been eaten ever be replaced?
About the Author
Brita Sandstrom is a graduate of Hamline University’s MFA program in writing for children and young adults. Hollow Chest is her first book. She lives with her family and a collection of cats in Minneapolis, Minnesota. You can visit her online at www.britasandstrom.com
Hollow Chest by Brita Sandstrom. Walden Pond Press, 2021. ISBN 978-0062870742. Review copy kindly sent by the publisher.
In London, February 1945, World War II is winding down. Charlie is counting down to the day when his older brother Theo is set to return from the war front, injured but alive. Charlie’s had to drop out of school to care for his aging grandfather (who lost an arm in World War I) while his mother works since Theo left, and is really looking forward to a return to normal. He’s still woken by nightmares of sirens and yellow eyes watching him, the unease sticking with him even though the air raids have stopped. Streets and buildings are still in ruins from the Blitz, food is still scarce, but Charlie is hanging on to hope.
But when Theo comes back, he isn’t the same – his spirit and interest in life are wounded, as well as his leg. The adults Charlie meets – both in his family and the nurse and soldier he befriends at the hospital he visits for school – all tell him to give Theo time. Still, Charlie sees shadowy wolves weaving through crowds and lurking around corners. Once in a while, someone like Grandad or Mad Melly, the crazy woman surrounded by pigeons who pushes all her belongings around in a pram, will acknowledge that they exist – but forget they mentioned anything the next moment. Slowly, Charlie becomes convinced that they are real, and they have eaten Theo’s heart. And Charlie is determined to track down the wolves and get it back, no matter what.
If this sounds unsettling, it is. Mid-war London is not a comfortable place to be, and the missing buildings, broken pavements, shortages, and streams of soldiers returning broken as well are all there, everyone trying to make the best of the terrible situation. And Charlie has allies on his quest, including Mad Mellie and his cat, Biscuits, who is as brave and fierce and silly as a cat should be, and there are great moments of connection and humor as well as the fear. All the human characters read as white, though Charlie and his family appear to be Catholic, a little out of the mainstream in London at the time.
Here’s my favorite passage about Biscuits:
“‘When have I ever let you starve?’ Charlie demanded, bending down to rub her little ears the way she liked. But Biscuits refused to be distracted from her imminent starvation and flung herself onto the ground, languishing.”
And here’s a creepy one:
“Charlie could feel [the war wolf’s nose] all the way through his jacket and jumper, a sharp lump of ice sucking up all the warmth in his body with each deep breath. Safe in his chest, Charlie’s heart fluttered – thump-THUD, thump-THUD – like it was try to shy away…”
The end is bittersweet and unexpected, full of resilience and hope.
Be sure to visit the other stops on the BLOG TOUR JUNE 7-JUNE 15
June 7 Nerdy Book Club @nerdybookclub
June 8 Bluestocking Thinking @bluesockgirl
June 9 Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers @grgenius
June 10 Teachers Who Read @teachers_read
June 11 Charlotte’s Library @charlotteslibrary
June 13 Storymamas @storymamas
June 15 Writer’s Rumpus @kirsticall