What is the most dangerous secret of all? For fifteen-year-old Dany, is it the shame that his once-vital mother now suffers mutely from “the staring sickness?” Or is it that Count Pol, the corrupt absolute ruler of Western Gottika, may be scouting the city clandestinely for teenage girls to kidnap? Could the worst secret be the mystery behind why all the kids in the Estat are only-children? Or could it be that Dany’s father possesses the secret knowledge of how to bring clay to life, and transform it into a terrifying weapon — an all-powerful Gol?
When Dany’s father is framed for the brutal murder of Gottika’s Princess Avivia, Dany is forced to confront all of these secrets. But that won’t be enough. In order to save his father, he’ll have to go still deeper. He’ll have to uncover his own family’s secret, one even darker and more disturbing than the rest.
Gottika reimagines a powerful Jewish legend as a futuristic fantasy with a universal message.
TPB | $12.95 | Age: 9-12 | 240 pp
"The masked creature with glowing red eyes that crawls over the cover of Helaine Becker’s new novel will fascinate fans of futuristic fantasy. Gottika is a modern retelling of the legend of the Jewish golem, a magical creature created from clay and mud whose very existence challenges how we think about ourselves.
Fifteen-year-old Dany is proud to be a Stoon, a peaceful people with a deep history and love of learning. Unfortunately, the Stoons live in the shadow of a city named Gottika, a fearful place where hatred, prejudice, and ignorance rule. When tensions erupt, Dany learns that his father has the power to conjure a golem to help their cause. Called Moishe, the huge creature of clay does help – and hinder – the Stoons. But can Dany’s father control him? In the powerful conclusion, Dany must confront difficult truths about himself, his family, and his world.
Becker’s fantasy stays true to the core of the legend, effortlessly drawing readers into the story. Alexander Griggs-Burr’s illustrations are a superb addition, edging the book into the realm of graphic novel. The chapters drawn in comic book style further the plot and ramp up the tension.
The juxtaposition of text and comics, combined with the talents of Becker and Griggs-Burr, ensure a broad audience for Gottika. Lovers of fantasy, myths and legends, action comics, a hero’s quest, and even Dungeons and Dragons fans will want to keep reading late into the night. And this story will continue to resonate the morning after." - National Reading Campaign
"Though it took me a few chapters to really get into the heart of this story, once I was there I could not put it down. Dany is in the unfortunate position of knowing change needs to happen, but is too young and too inexperienced to know how to bring it about. The relationships explored throughout this novel are well thought out and well executed, but the story really rises to its potential with the introduction of the Gol, or Moish as he is come to be called. His presence somehow ignites every character into action, into becoming more themselves. His strength, and his story are the real soul of this novel, and I was fascinated watching this traditional Jewish folk story come to life."
- Melissa's Raves and Faves, CBC Here and Now
"With Gottika, Helaine Becker ably blends a futuristic science fiction version of the persecution of Jewish people during the war with legend and folklore, breaking down some difficult topics with sensitivity and understanding.
There’s something for every reader in Becker’s latest novel – historical influences that will invite discussion, steam punk elements to delight the sci-fi/fantasy reader and magical elements to engage the imagination. Indeed, the inclusion of the much revered folklore of the golem adds an extra dimension to the tale.
Within the main storyline, the parallels to the Holocaust are unmistakable, and it’s a tribute to Becker’s writing style that she is able to portray the injustices in her own words and in her own world, while still instilling the feelings of frustration, fear and prejudice in the reader. Dany’s viewpoint allows the reader to experience life under oppression, and his actions are logical and authentic for a fifteen year old, especially one who is feeling both anxious and embittered about his life under the oppressed rule of the cruel Count Pol. His father’s actions to raise the gol in order to defend the Stoon people are bewitching, and transform him from a world-weary man to something otherworldly and powerful. The golem – Moishe – is raised for a purpose, and he not only defends the Stoons but also galvanizes them into action.
A word about the format: Gottika is presented in both text and graphic form, and there are key moments in the story that are presented in wordless visual form. I loved this change, as it almost suggested that the emotion of the events was too much for words, and could only be felt by witnessing it yourself. It’s also a great technique for less confident readers, encouraging them to continue to connect with the story, and giving a sometimes necessary visual break during an intense situation.
Overall, this is a very powerful story. Younger readers may benefit from some guided reading, especially for some of the more mature events, but the story encourages discussion throughout. This is a fabulous tale, filled with myths and legends, action and emotion, as well as history and imagination, and it’s one that will keep readers entertained and informed throughout."
-Lost in a Great Book Blog
"Becker’s writing is quite beautiful. Powerful, dark and often disturbing, though laced with hope...There is a lot going on in this story and even more beneath its surface. I think it would be great in a classroom as it raises questions about civil rights, ethnic brutality, religious difference, prejudice, etc. in a way that is accessible to readers. It would easily facilitate discussion questions. That the story is interspersed with graphic-novel style panels will especially appeal to more reluctant readers.
In Gottika, Becker has created a new legend. One about courage, family and truth."
- Bookish Notions Book Blog
"Gottika is the perfect mashup that results in a great read; one that kept me awake until I turned the last page."
- Sheryl McFarlane Book Blog "Dany, a 15-year-old Stoon, lives in the favela with his mother, who suffers from "the staring sickness," and his father, who was once a great scholar and magician. Dany's father brings forth the Golem, who defends the favala, and with his help, Dany and his family take on the evil Count, learn secrets that can change everything and set Gottika on a new path. It makes for an exciting story, with very short chapters that move things along." - Canadian Children's Book Centre News