YA: The Legend of Sally Jones by Jakob Wegelius

Review published on November 8, 2018.

There was a big stir a couple of months ago when Wegelius published his novel, The Murderer’s Ape, an adventure story that delights and thrills and transcends age. (You can read Erin’s review of The Murderer’s Ape here.) It’s a multi-award-winning novel that both adults and older children have come to love. Now we have the graphic novel prequel, The Legend of Sally Jones, which also won Sweden’s August Prize for Best Children’s Book in 2008. It’s an adventure story that takes the reader around the world; to exotic places, experiencing spectacular events and introduces us to people and apes – both good and bad. The feeling of wonder and joyfulness this story inspires will lead it to become a favourite read too.

Set in the early twentieth century, this is the story of a young ape born during a storm, a bad omen for her future. She was captured in an ambush by illegal hunters in the Belgian Congo and sold in Leopoldville to a Turkish merchant. Then she was smuggled to Istanbul as a present for his fiancée, disguised a baby in a pram, thus acquiring the name Sally Jones. The fiancée of Ali Kazdim is delighted by her present until she opens the box, it’s not gold or jewels but a horrible little creature she takes an instant dislike to. When Fatima calls off the wedding Ali decides to sell Sally in the market to recoup some of his money. Sally waits a long time before a buyer rescues her from the terrible conditions she is kept in. Frau Schultz treats the ape well, nurses her to health. The pair plays games all the time, Frau Schultz hiding bananas for Sally to find. The games become more complicated until Sally is proficient at finding hidden things, even ones locked away, her owner seems delighted. Frau Schultz has plans for Sally, she is not who she claims to be….

What follows is a tale of grand larceny and a clever policeman, of kidnap, piracy and shipwreck, of magic and prison breaks, of adversity and betrayal and deep emotions and friendship. This might seem like an old-fashioned tale of adventure but the modern themes include animal conservation, ecological concerns, diversity and difference. Traditional themes include human kindness and cruelty, loss and love, growing up and learning to understand the world around you. In its darker passages we have slavery but we also have the positive immigrant experience and ultimately a lovely ending. The Legend of Sally Jones is beautifully illustrated with full colour images that compliment the text, with little added elements of the story to be discovered in the art work. In Sally we have a wonderful hero, a positive image for both girls and boys; she is resourceful, giving, intelligent and friendly. There’s a nice subtle wit to the tale to please adults and some funny moments for the children. The Legend of Sally Jones is engaging, thought provoking and tremendous fun, as I have said, reading this book is a joyful experience.

Fine storytelling that has a perfect sense of poetic justice. Sally will be a favourite with children and adults alike.

Paul Burke 5/5

The Legend of Sally Jones by Jakob Wegelius
Pushkin Children’s Books 9781782692331 hbk Nov 2018

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