A review by Nalini Haynes
Gallant usually refers to a behavior or personality trait but not so in this story. Um… How do I write a review without resorting to clichés? And without giving away spoilers? Here goes…
Olivia Prior is a teenager in an orphanage. She cannot speak although she understands language and can write. To compensate for her verbal silence, she usually intentionally makes as much noise as possible when moving around.
The other orphans avoid her after previous acts of bullying resulted in highly entertaining vengeance. Olivia has CHARACTER. I wish I’d read this story when I was a kid instead of all that “and everything ends happily ever after” bullshit.
A letter arrives summoning Olivia to a home and a family she never knew she had. Then a car comes to take her home. But no one is expecting her arrival…
Although her parents are a mystery, Olivia has her mother’s journal. This journal juxtaposes written words with amorphous drawings. Sadly there are few image descriptions of use to someone like me, with vision impairment.
Playing into Olivia’s self-image and coming of age story, this journal is crucial to character development and the plot. Parents help form their children’s self-image in many ways, including an understanding of heritage. In Gallant this is especially important.
There aren’t many characters of importance in Gallant, so the diversity focus is Olivia, a mute protagonist. I hesitate to speak for this minority group as the closest I’ve ever been is in my dealings with Deaf people. From my perspective as someone who has lived with disability and researched disability, however, Schwab’s representation is respectful and thoughtful. Olivia is no passive pitiable character: she has agency, dynamism.
I am very interested in the opinions of people who have permanent mutism, so I’d appreciate further feedback. (I believe I have selective mutism. There have been times where I have been unable to speak in times of distress, like when a professor assaulted me in the refectory. I plan ahead and try to anticipate interactions, even rehearsing responses so I am not left speechless or fumbling when taken by surprise. However, I am far from mute like Olivia.)
Some reviewers have said Gallant is a genre-bending novel. I’m trying to avoid clichés so I’ll say that although Olivia is a teenager, it will appeal to certain readers from middle school to retirement homes. While Gallant feels to me like a Victorian gothic horror with very little in the way of actual blood, there is a car. And a few other hints that the setting is, perhaps, twentieth century England. The story is spooky without having induced nightmares for me, so Michelle Paver’s Dark Matter is far more chilling. Possibly because that felt more real, while Gallant is definitely a fantasy.
And I love the representation of disability in the form of a disabled protagonist who is mute and yet so very verbal internally. She is silenced by others failing to learn sign language and yet is so very vocal, determined and powerful.
I’ve been pondering this novel since I finished reading it, wondering what I could say that others haven’t said more eloquently. This morning, while I sit in Brew Bar with my coffee before me and my dog at my feet, the words just flowed for my first draft. Quite often I find writing reviews affects my enjoyment of a story. Writing this review revealed to me how much love and respect I have for this novel.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
ISBN: 9781785658686, 9781803360355
Imprint: Titan Publishing Group (Australian distributor: New South Books)
Format: paperback, 320 pages. Other formats available.
Category: young adult, fantasy, dark fantasy, gothic horror, coming of age