Book Review: The Hypnotist (Laurence Anholt)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Corgi Childrens

Pages: 352

Release Date: October 6th 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

Jack has left his native Ireland and is making a new life as Professor of Neurology at a university in the American South. He has certain skills, honed over his lifetime, that he mostly keeps hidden. Skills in hypnotism and mind control . . .

Thirteen-year-old Pip is plucked out of an orphanage by a farmer, hired as a farm-hand, and as carer for the farmer’s wife. But Pip is black. The farmer and his wife are white. And this is 1960s America, where race defines you and overshadows everything.

As racial tensions reach boiling point with a danger closer to home and more terrifying than either thought possible, Jack and Pip’s lives become inextricably linked. And Jack’s hypnotic skills are called on as never before . . .

Review:

I had no idea what this was really about going into it, and I struggled at first because I just didn’t know where it was going. About 100 or so pages in things started kicking off and I was suddenly really invested in the characters and their story.

The story is told in dual narrative, from Pip, a young black boy working for a white couple and their racist, radical son, and Jack, an Irish professor and hypnotist. There’s also songs sprinkled throughout by Hannah, a selective mute Native American girl who also works for the family.

I have to admit this isn’t a period I know much about, aside from some historical facts. We weren’t really taught it at school and I haven’t read many books set in this era so it was something new for me, and I found it really interesting. I think the thing that sucked me in was the scene where the KKK was introduced: it was genuinely scary and I felt Pip’s fear. There’s also a seemingly nice and rational character who professes his support for the group and tries to normalise their actions and describes them as a ‘family group’, making it sound more like a country club than a violent, racist organisation.

While reading there was part of me thinking, ‘phew, thank goodness we don’t live in a world like this any more.’ And part of me despaired at the parallels I could see between then and now. No, we don’t have segregation anymore and yes, race relations are better. But they’re not perfect and there’s still a myriad of issues. There’s still people who think like this. When reading some of the racists rants, it sounded too much like things you still hear today, especially in post-Brexit Britain. The story served as a warning to me, as it shows the awful consequences of when these dangerous views go unchallenged.

All that aside, this was a really interesting story, with a great set of characters that you can’t help but root for. I loved Pip and wanted him to get his ‘great expectations’. He was just too sweet and adorable, and I loved his simple love for Lilybelle and Hannah. I struggled to get into Jack’s narrative at times: I found his colloquial address to the audience a bit awkward but I loved his skills and his reactions to the racism. It was really interesting seeing it from an outsider’s point of view, as it wasn’t something he was used to in Ireland. I also really enjoyed Hannah’s songs – Anholt is quite a poet.

With the world in the state it is, I feel this is a really important read, as well as being endearing and even funny at times. A great YA debut, and one everyone should pick up this year.

4

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