Raven Summer

Book review by
Terreece Clarke, Common Sense Media
Raven Summer Book Poster Image
A great conversation-starter on the impact of violence.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Lots of food for thought on violence, with examples of how real-world violence can desensitize kids and may even encourage violence. Also, the book shows how war can impact the everyday lives of people who are worlds away from such conflict.

Positive Messages

While there are a tremendous amount of thoughts toward violence and several violent acts including stories of child soldiers and animal killings, the message that stands out is that we are all capable of violence and it is our will and sense of decency that keeps us from perpetrating such acts. It also speaks to the violence kids and teens witness so often that it becomes second nature to them.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The main characters are role models in their vunerability and in their basic goodness.


There are a lot of violent images, allusions to and threats of violence, including stories of violence perpetrated against children and adults. A boy talks of his family being killed by soldiers in Africa, a girl talks of her entire family being burned in a house fire and has scars on her body from the fire. A girl cuts herself and details the first time she did it. A boy has violent tendencies -- he kills animals and makes videos of violence. Boys play war games and talk about killing and blood often. One boy attacks another holding a knife to his throat, another boy tries to kill a boy by stabbing him, but misses. A teen tells of killing a child when he was a child himself. 


Teens kiss briefly, while teen boys "discover" girls. An adult woman kisses a man that is not her husband and it is alluded she is having an affair.


Some name calling, like "tart" and "idiot."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults are shown drinking alcohol and one adult male is described as an alcoholic. A teen describes being fed drugs and alcohol as a child of 8 or 9.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that there are uncomfortable moments in this novel. A child soldier tells of his family being killed and of killing and a teen boy is so immersed in violence he begins to act out violently against animals and other teens. There is some knife play involved including threats and an attempted stabbing. There is also adultery, teens running away, an abandoned baby, and discussions of cutting by a teen girl. This book offers much food for thought on the impact of violence in the lives of teens.

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What's the story?

Liam and Max start the summer like they did as kids, digging for treasure. They find a knife and later that day a baby. As the summer progresses Max begins to grow up and distant, and, while Liam loses a friend he gains a little sister, and his mother, the artist, gains a new medium, and his father, the writer, gains a new story. Throughout the summer Liam is exposed to both the innocence and violence of life. Torn between the two worlds, set against the backdrop of wars in Iraq and Liberia, Liam discovers just how easy it is to become caught up in the in the war games he imagines. One fateful night, all the elements come together and Liam finds himself desperately acting out a scenario once seen only in his head. After reality and fantasy become blurred one is left to wonder -- if you can imagine it, could you do it?

Is it any good?

David Almond's RAVEN SUMMER is a unique find. It weaves a complicated and beautiful story of a child's entrance into the harsh realities of adult life without the maudlin musings of fleeting childhood usually found in coming of age stories. His characters are normal, strange, and endearing. Teens will be interested not only in the comings and goings of Liam, Max, Crystal, Oliver, and Nattrass, they will be interested in what motivates the characters to act in ways that are sometimes inexplicable.

Readers are hit with the very real question of "What are you capable of?" Could a child trained to kill in a far off African country be so different than a child in a first world country with access to violent TV shows, video games, and Internet terrorist videos? This is a great conversation-starter on the realities and impact of violence both at home and abroad. It's also a great pick for teen boys.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about violence. How does real-life violence desensitize people? Do people still have reactions to the images of war in other countries? How has coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan affected teens? What about videos of the beheading of journalists and other hostages?

  • One great point in the novel discusses how if you can imagine a thing, you can do that thing. Many people use this in a positive sense, do you think it can be used in a negative sense? Do you think imagining yourself killing people via a video game makes it possible for you to commit violence in real life? Why or why not?

  • Oliver was a victim of cultural bias. People assumed his original story was untrue -- why? Is it easier to believe the negative things you hear about people when they are different from you? Why?

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