I am not entirely sure what I was expecting when I first heard about Sawbones or saw the front cover but I must admit it was a gripping tale and one that I think my eleven (almost twelve-year old) son is going to enjoy.
Ezra (the main character) is a freed slave living in London in 1792 where he is working as an apprentice to a well regarded surgeon (the man who actually freed him and performed surgery which saved Ezra’s life). When the story starts Ezra is trying to figure out what he is going to do and how he can set up a life for himself with a young girl who he has fallen in love with. Then some strange bodies arrive for dissection (and yes this book does deal with dissection in quite a bit of detail on a few occasions so it is not for the squeamish) and chaos follows as a man breaks into the house in an attempt to steal something from one of the dead bodies only to end up killing Ezra’s “master/father figure”.
With the help of a very feisty teen named Loveday Finch, Ezra needs to uncover the truth about not only his masters murder but Loveday’s father’s murder and some stolen jewels.
It is an adventure /solve a mystery book but it is also a historical fiction story and a story about diversity and overcoming hardships. There is a lot wrapped up in this story. I enjoyed the historical context, London in the 1792 was completely different to London of today so it was fascinating to read about the people, places and culture of the city. I actually found the whole body dissection, the resurrectionists, selling cadavers to surgeons, performing surgery as an open event that people can watch, fascinating and yes a bit of it is gory but I honestly read some of that with wide eyes total absorbed in the story. And I really do think that aspect of slightly more gore and gruesomeness is what will grip my son and captivate him (and I am even thinking may prompt him to investigate the medical practices of that time in a bit more detail).
I also have to highlight the fact that the author has managed to include a unique cast of characters in this story – you get the kind master who freed is slave, the slave who is learning to be a surgeon, some surgeons who are manipulative and untrustworthy, a young girl who breaks all stereotypes of women in that time period, member of the Ottoman court, some who are cruel, some weak and someone who is considered respectable but ends up trying to steal from Ezra. The author really has woven in unexpected characters, characters who really show that appearance and status does not automatically mean anything about your true character.
I feel like there is still more about this story that I want to say because it has so many interesting layers but I if I keep writing this post is just going to become too long.
Going on….because this story is published as a Rollercoaster by Oxford University Press it comes with a FREE to download resource pack (this range is aimed at KS3 kids so think ages 11 – 14 for these Rollercoaster packs). Whenever I use one of these books as a unit with my kids I like to read the story beforehand so I can comment, draw their attention to certain aspects of the story but if you don’t get the chance to read the story before then the introduction page, scheme of work and summary of contents pages in this pack are a perfect “catch-up” to get you orientated and aware of what is about to happen.
This resource pack comes with 10 lesson plans (every Rollercoaster pack different because it is based on the story) and for every lesson there are attached resources to use and answers are included.
The resources that they include with this pack focus on vocabulary (there are some great, unusual words in this book), character development (I think the character of Ezra is an interesting one to try and analyse a bit more), genre and using sensory detail in your writing. And I want to stress they have included sample answers for all of the lessons.
I think this is a fascinating book and I like the fact that there is a resource pack which you can use with the book. We will probably use this as one of our English stories towards the end of this year (the end of my son’s Year 7). It is something that I think we could cover in a 6 week period, and one that I think I would be able to use as a springboard to get him to do further research into the medical practices of that time (so you can easily link it into a History topic).
I highly recommend this book for kids who will enjoy the slightly more gory writing and details of surgery.
Admin – From time to time Oxford University Press send us free copies of their books. The choice of which books I will write reviews on is mine as is the opinion expressed in the reviews. This is NOT a paid for post.