The Gargoyle Overhead (2010), by Philippa Dowding

This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 16.1.

The Gargoyle Overhead

Philippa Dowding has followed The Gargoyle in my Yard (2009) with a gripping tale of suspense, perfectly moulded for the 8-12 year old reader.  The story incorporates magic delightfully into a well-constructed, realist presentation of modern Toronto. Unfortunately, in this book, we do not learn why these gargoyles are alive while others are not, and for readers who have not had the privilege of reading The Gargoyle in my Yard, the rightful “ownership” of Gargoth, the gargoyle of the title, becomes a question towards the end.  Readers will look past these small omissions easily, however, for the joy of following Dowding’s engaging tale.
Dowding’s protagonists are genuine and interesting, and the balance of autonomy and dependence she gives young Katherine will satisfy both parents and young readers.  Gargoth and his best friend, Ambergine, are both well-rounded characters in the their own rights, and readers will fall in love with both of them. I would love to see an illustrated edition, as the body language of Dowding’s gargoyles is so much a part of their characterization.  Dowding’s plot moves quickly, despite the flashbacks to Ambergine and Gargoth’s years together and apart since the 1660s in France.  European and American history is blended artfully into Gargoth’s story, heightening the sense of the gargoyles’ magical existence, and of their loneliness during 148 years apart.  The ending of the novel, while not precluding further tales, leaves the two gargoyles free agents in their lives: a happy ending, but certainly not what the reader will expect.  Overall, I would highly recommend this story to young independent readers with an interest in magic and magical creatures.


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