Book Review: Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster (Jonathan Auxier)
“That’s how it works, doesn’t it? We are saved by saving others.”
— Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster, by Jonathan Auxier
This is awesome.
Hold on, what.
How did he do that?
Oops. We seem to have invaded my thoughts the first time I read Sweep.
Let’s leave those thoughts alone for now. . . though, by the end of the review, I hope I’ll have convinced you of Sweep’s worth well enough so that you can think them yourself as you read the book for yourself.
Because, let me assure you—Sweep is every bit worth it.
For nearly a century, Victorian London relied on “climbing boys”—orphans owned by chimney sweeps—to clean flues and protect homes from fire. The work was hard, thankless, and brutally dangerous.
Eleven-year-old Nan Sparrow is quite possibly the best climber who ever lived—and a girl. With her wits and will, she’s managed to beat the deadly odds time and time again.
But when Nan gets stuck in a deadly chimney fire, she fears her time has come. Instead, she wakes to find herself in an abandoned attic. And she is not alone. Huddled in the corner is a mysterious creature—a golem—made from ash and coal. This is the creature that saved her from the fire.
Sweep is the story of a girl and her monster. Together, these two outcasts carve out a life—saving one another in the process. By one of today’s most powerful storytellers, Sweep is a heartrending adventure about the everlasting gifts of friendship and hope.
Plot — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Crafting a structurally sound book with a plot such as the one Sweep features is hard—speaking from experience here. Developing friendships and making a thousand tiny changes but not always with bit ones is really, really hard.
But Auxier did it wonderfully. Everything has its purpose, even if it doesn’t feel like it in the moment.
Characters — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
If you know me at all, then you know that characters are one of the most important part of storytelling to me, both when I read and when I write.
And let me tell you—the characters in Sweep were fantastic.
Nan’s quick wit, determination, and flaws made her so real, so strong, and so quick to feel like a friend of mine.
Charlie was adorable, and the friendship between him and Nan was beyond touching.
The Sweep was very thought-provoking, and his selfless acts for Nan touched me in so many ways.
Newt and Robin and all the other climbing boys set the scene so well and provided a wonderful backdrop for the story.
Toby’s teasing and serious comments balanced each other perfectly, and after Nan and Charlie, he was one of my favorite characters.
In short—Auxier knows how to write his characters, and those of Sweep are lovely.
Pacing — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
The flashbacks, though after a while become pleasing, were rather slow at the beginning.
The first chapter, in particular, didn’t really grab my interest at first—I actually started the book, got bored with the first chapter, and moved onto another book, only coming back after several months.
So, stick it out! Don’t be a Karissa, and have enough patience to get to the second chapter knowing that it definitely picks up once you get there.
Worldbuilding and Setting — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Before reading Sweep, all I knew about chimney sweeps came from Mary Poppins—which, in retrospect, while a wonderful movie, shouldn’t be the only historical influence you get.
The backdrop was so quickly painted, so vivid in my mind. . . it was amazing.
I love the way Auxier forms his sentences and plays with words and delivers the most impact possible—it’s amazing, and very worth the read.
(I’d also recommend that writers study it, too!)
Friendship, freedom, loyalty, responsibility—the themes of Sweep were masterfully well-done. Due to the intensity of it, I probably wouldn’t hand the book to someone under the age of twelve, but if they have the maturity to handle the somewhat horrific backdrop of the climbing boys of London, I would definitely recommend this book.
Like The Witch of Blackbird Pond, I sped through this book in one day and spent most of the day just reading. (Ah, the glories of weekends.)
I’ve read it many times since, and most definitely recommend it—and let me know what you think of it when you’re done!
What's your favorite book from this historical time period?