In 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy English village and looking for any taste of excitement they can get. The chalk men are their secret code: little chalk stick figures they leave for one another as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them right to a dismembered body, and nothing is ever the same.
In 2016, Eddie is fully grown and thinks he’s put his past behind him, but then he gets a letter in the mail containing a single chalk stick figure. When it turns out that his friends got the same message, they think it could be a prank—until one of them turns up dead. That’s when Eddie realizes that saving himself means finally figuring out what really happened all those years ago.
Author: C.J. Tudor
“If our world was a snow globe, it was the day some casual god came along, shook it hard and set it back down again. Even when the foam and flakes had settled, things weren’t the way they were before. Not exactly. They might have looked the same through the glass but, on the inside, everything was different.”
I chose this book as my December 2017 Book of the Month pick, and I’m so glad I did! (That was a tough choice, though.) I was looking for something that would hook me from the beginning and allow me to rip through it quickly. That’s exactly what this book did.
The story jumps back and forth between the main character’s childhood and the present day, which are linked by a murder mystery. Eddie and his friends have a pretty eventful year in 1986, starting with a truly gruesome tragedy at the beginning-of-summer fair, peppered with the reality of death—which tears away some of their childhood innocence—and ending with their discovery of a dead body. We, the readers, know this is coming the whole time, but we have to read through to learn some of the most important details—like whose body it is. In 2016, Ed is a somewhat lonely adult with questionable mental stability when one of those friends comes back into his life and then turns up dead. His PTSD from those childhood experiences mingle with his grasp on reality, and he finds himself careening down a path of discovery and answer. Woven throughout both storylines is the mystery of stick figure men drawn with white chalk.
“For who are we if not the sum of our experiences, the things we gather and collect in life? Once you strip those away we become just a mass of flesh, bone and blood vessels.”
This book dives deep into the theme of what gives people their identity. As a child and as an adult, Eddie is obsessed with collecting tokens of experiences. As a child, he steals small trinkets or pens off people’s desks. As an adult, the entire second level of his home is filled with cataloged boxes of these items. He’s obsessed with hanging on to the proof that he has been places and experienced life. Is this related to his father’s decline with dementia? His early experiences with violence and the fleetingness of life? Mental illness? I think all three.
C.J. Tudor’s ability to weave this theme into every aspect of the story is really impressive. There was a lot to it if you’re looking. Even in the single quote above, notice the reference to losing our experiences, to collecting proof, to his experiences with the gruesome.
And the ending—the very, very ending after the climax of the story, the very last page—was just…so great.