Glassheart is about orphaned Nona and stained-glass window maker Antoni found family within each other after World War Two. Living and working together brought them solace and security, having each lost their loved ones and their homes. But memories of her past and the terrors of The Blitz continue to surface for Nona. One part of her old home calls her back; a mysterious piece of glass that takes the shape of half a heart—an object that comforts and grounds her, but with powers that not even the eleven-year-old can understand. After the pair are summoned to restore the windows of a dilapidated church in Dartmoor, Nona notices an unexplained change in her adopted Uncle. A man once filled with warmth, suddenly entranced with a cold determination to work. But what has happened to Antoni, and why is the church so important? Soon Nona will learn that the human world is in grave danger, that magic and a great responsibility awaits her. Glassheart is a story of discovery and strength, where evil grows ever closer, and events from the past must be uncovered.
Nona’s journey is both beguiling and moving, steeped in magical realism and brought beautifully to life by Orton. The reader meets mysterious spirits, shapeshifting beings and evil creatures that manifest into the beholder’s inner fears. I loved the fact that such a fantastical adventure is set against the backdrop of a country recovering from war, experienced by a protagonist whose journey helps her to reconcile with the truth about their past. Nona is someone that all readers can resonate with, a character of contrasts who is portrayed as fragile and strong, uncertain and brave. Her inner development and the ways that other characters internalise different tragedies during war provides many layers of insight into human emotions. Perhaps this story prepares children to empathise with and support people working through personal struggles, to understand that grief and healing is not necessarily a linear process.
Glassheart will certainly enchant fans of fantasy in Year Five and Six, and the rich historical context makes this story a perfect cross-curricular text to use in school. Orton briefly touches upon the impact of World War Two upon Poland, Uncle Antoni’s home country. This could stimulate some rewarding historical inquiry into life after war for different people in the UK. Stained glass window artwork would be a lovely way to immerse readers in the world of the story, and could lead to some later geometry work too. Above all, this is a thoughtful and action-packed tale that lingers long after the final page.
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