Sally Jones is back!
Translated books for younger readers rarely receive the recognition they deserve in the English-speaking press. The Murderer’s Ape, however, appears to be an exception. Published in English by Pushkin Press in 2018, it was named Book of the Year by the Observer, Guardian, Telegraph, The Times, The Sunday Times and BookTrust, as well as being selected as Waterstones Children’s Book of the Month.
The narrator and fictional author is Sally Jones, who is typing up her story on an old Underwood typewriter. Sally Jones is an incredible engineer, who feels most at home as part of a seafaring crew. She is also a gorilla… Although she can’t speak, she understands everything that’s going on around her, often intuitively reading more into situations than her human companions.
The adventure begins when Sally Jones’s best friend, Henry Koskela, also known as ‘The Chief’, is wrongly accused of murder and thrown into jail. Sally Jones becomes a wanted ape and has to go into hiding. But she knows that The Chief is innocent, and sets out to prove it. Along the way, she discovers loyal friends, learns how to fix accordions, sails across the ocean with a seasick camel and plays chess with a maharaja in India. Just as she is about to give up hope, a new twist reveals that Koskela’s imprisonment is the work of a more powerful force than she ever suspected.
In June 2021, it was announced that a sequel would be released in the autumn. When Mathew Tobin posted the news on Twitter, the reaction on the platform was glorious, with an outpouring of appreciation for Wegelius’s previous Sally Jones adventures.
As review copies of The False Rose started to land, I was honoured to be among the recipients of this much-anticipated book. Like The Murderer’s Ape, it is a thick volume, with plenty for confident readers to get their teeth into. The black-and-white illustrations at the start depict the various characters we encounter along the way, and whenever my daughter and I came across somebody new in the story, she would flick back to the beginning to see if they were there and to check what they looked like. Sally Jones is once again our narrator, with the introduction stating that she is writing this narrative to give to someone (who could it be?), as a way of explaining all that has happened to her.
The Chief and Sally have been reunited and are hard at work fixing their steamer, the Hudson Queen. When they happen across an expensive pearl necklace, they resolve to find out who it belongs to and return it to its rightful owner. Their quest leads them to Glasgow and into the hands of a notorious gang. The Chief is sent onwards on a smuggling expedition across the ocean to America, while Sally is left alone with the gang, housed in a dark, damp cell. Will she escape and be reunited with The Chief? Will they find out who the necklace belongs to?
While BookTrust lists The Murderer’s Ape as ideal for readers aged 8 plus, my seven-year-old loved reading it together. She was very excited about the sequel, but I would suggest that The False Rose appeals to a slightly older age group. The book contains lots of references to gang culture and violence, and features several shoot-outs, so it did feel a little strange to be describing knuckle dusters to my seven-year-old!
One of the things I love about these books is Sally Jones’s loyalty and compassion towards the people around her. In this latest instalment, only one of the gang members, Bernie, shows any kindness towards Sally Jones, and he is scorned by the others for being an ‘idiot’. Yet once Sally Jones recognises his true kindness, a bond begins to form between them. To the extent that, even when Sally has the opportunity to escape her harsh treatment by the rest of the gang, her concern for her friend’s welfare keeps her by his side.
Early comments on Twitter suggest that this new Sally Jones saga is set to be a hit. Watch out for the blog tour coming throughout October, and take a look at the Pushkin Press website for more fantastic adventures.
Reviewed by Claire Storey
THE MURDERER’S APE and THE FALSE ROSE
by Jakob Wegelius
Translated by Peter Graves
Published by Pushkin Press (2018 and 2021)
September 2021 #RivetingReviews titles are available to buy from bookshop.org.
Claire Storey is a literary translator from German and Spanish. With Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp, she is co-editor of World Kid Lit, a website dedicated to translated books for children and young adults. Claire also regularly speaks in schools about languages and translation. Read more about her here and follow her on Twitter @ClaireStorey16.
Read Claire Storey’s #RivetingReview: A Roundup of Recent French Children’s Books in Translation