Escape From Mercy Hall
Written by Garth Edwards
Illustrated by Max Stasyuk
The world behind the hedge is a strange one and three friends must adapt quickly to save themselves from kidnapping or worse. When Milly decides to run away from Mercy Hall, an abusive orphanage, George and Sam know they must help her. As they meet next to the hedge, it opens and three figures in hooded, orange robes grab her and drag her through the opening. George and Sam surprise the kidnappers and fight them off. Before they can go back, the hedge closes. They are trapped in this world where animals talk, adults are small, and chariots transport them without wheels. They befriend a dog tied to a stake who explains that he has been left out for the Muttons, sheep that eat everything. By saving Drago, they have the help they need to navigate a place that has its own rules. They learn about Rainbow Cave, where passing through changes a person and gives them special powers, and the Dome, a huge power generator that is operated by slaves kidnapped from the outside world. The three friends want to save these slaves as well as themselves. That means they will need all the help of their new friends, the special abilities they have gained and the strength of their friendship.
There is a lot of action and it is quite plot-driven, but it has an old-fashioned, more thoughtful voice. This will appeal to students who enjoyed The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe or The Gammage Cup. This is a rich world described with details and quaint dialogue, resonating with its British origins. One suggested literacy activity is to draw a map of the hedge-world and plot the friends’ journey. The line drawings in the book are moody and bring it to life. There is an interesting juxtaposition of technology and the old world, so it could inspire discussion of environmental issues. This would make a good class read aloud. Because this is the first of The Thorngate Trilogy, answers are most likely coming to explain some of the things found in this new world. A fun read.