Rowan the Strange by Julie Hearn

How does a doctor examine a person’s brain? They won’t use any knives on me, will they? Rowan knows he is strange. But dangerous? He didn’t mean to scare his sister. In his right mind, he wouldn’t hurt a fly. But there’s a place he can go where they say they can fix his mind . . . Beyond the bars on the window, England is at war. Behind them, Rowan’s own battle is only just beginning. This amazing story gives a thought-provoking look at life in an asylum and the experimental treatments practised at the start of the Second World War. For Rowan, nobody could ever have predicted the effect these treatments would have.

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19 thoughts on “Rowan the Strange by Julie Hearn

  1. The book follows the story of Rowan a young boy who is sent away by his family to a mental hospital because he is strange. During the course of the book you see how he is treated by the staff at the hospital, other patients and his family. It also has the nice touch of being set during the early part of World War Two. The main reason I would recommend someone should read this is because it gives you real insight into how people with mental illness were treated and viewed during the 1940s. The treatments used are quite horrific and the way they are treated by others is at times appalling.
    I loved the relationship between Rowan and Dorothea, another hospital inmate. The dialogue between them was really funny and heart-warming at times and really heart breaking at other times. I really liked this book, and I’m glad it was part of the North East Book Award, as it is not what I’d usually pick to read, but I’m very pleased I did!

    By Olivia

  2. wow…erm….I couldn’t get into this at all. There was too much in the story and it just dragged…
    I just don’t think that this was my thing. The review of the novel got me interested but I think my expectations had probably been too high.

  3. Rowan the Strange by Julie Hearn

    When I first began to read this book, I thought it was a bit boring and I didn’t really understand what was happening. But Julie Hearn has a fantastic way with words that made the pictures of what was happening so real in my mind. This tale lets you into the mind of a young boy with Schizophrenia and the experimental treatment he receives at a psychiatric hospital for the mentally ill. Her writing is so vivid and real that I could really feel the pain when Rowan receives his first treatment. It was pure genius for Hearn to have cast the main doctor as a German – Doctor von Metzer – and to use him to express the shock and outrage that Germans felt over the euthanasia of the mentally ill that occurred in their country. I really enjoyed reading it with a German character, especially at the time of World War Two. The setting of the book is wonderfully described and the eccentric Dorothea really brought the book to life. I thought this book was really good and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a great read and I could hardly put it down.

    By Kaajal

  4. Rowan the Strange was alright , but not my kind of book. I would not read it again but I would recommend it to my friends as some of them would find it quite interesting 🙂

  5. I got dragged into the book from the very beginning and loved the character Rowan! The twists throughout the book were great! I would definitely read this book again!

  6. This book is amazing! At first I couldn’t get into it but the more I read the more I got into it and by the end I couldn’t put the thing down. The plot is confusing but kind of drags you in more. Credits to the author.

  7. I like this book, it is really good book. I found it a bit hard to get into but once I did I enjoyed it a lot …x

  8. I really enjoyed Rowan the Strange and loved the idea of showing the life of someone with a mental illness during WWII but not rely too heavily on the backdrop of WWII to move the story along. Although most of my friends didn’t find it gripping, I couldn’t put the book down. Certainly one for people who can look at society through a different perspective.

  9. ‘Rowan the Strange’ was a really good book, and I loved the idea, the storyline and how it was written. I never knew what would happen and I always wanted to keep on reading.
    It is the story of a boy with a mental disability in World War Two, and it is actually quite an exciting book! The author gives each of the characters their own distinctive personality, which you always want to know more about. Julie Hearn has written the book in such a way that you understand how the characters are feeling, and you feel happy when happy things happen, and sad when sad things happen.
    Although it took me a while to get into the story, I ended up loving the characters and I enjoyed reading the book. I wouldn’t normally read a book like this, but I was really glad that I got the opportunity to read it because it was different, and gave me an insight on what life was like for mentally ill people in WWII. The whole concept was unique, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone!

    By Laura

  10. I found this book to be very odd. Weird. Bizarre. (To be fair, the title does give a fair warning of this fact.) I liked it, but it was strange.

  11. It’s sufficient enough to say it’s a great book. It’s extremely well written and, although I found it quite hard to get into at first, the story is very thought-provoking. Slow-paced but not enough to make you want to put down the book — the story twists later on make you really grateful you continued. If you’re one who likes teary books then this is a very good choice although I didn’t cry as much as I normally would because of the way it is written. Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised as I found myself giggling to the point of hysteria at some parts. Generally upbeat, quite contrasting to the assumption you automatically get when you hear the words ‘mental institution’ and ‘electric shock treatment’ and even ‘schizophrenic’ but it invoked many unexpected reactions. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would be happy to re-read it over and over. The ending was somewhat of an anti-climax as I found myself wanting to read on about the characters but it didn’t ruin the book — it just left me to appreciate what was actually written.

    By Simran

  12. I read a lot on psychology, so it was very interesting to read how hospital would deal with mentalist illness during the Second World War. I like the fact that we could see what was going on in Rowan’s mind and see how people on the outside would react to the bodily effects of what he was doing. One thing that got me was the way, the hospital was run and how there was nobody checking the systems. The hospital ran by it’s own rules and as long nobody made an issue they could get away with anything including suicide incidents. I found this book very interesting, one that takes you on a journey of self discovery.

  13. This story was good although it was the type of book I usually like. You could imagine that you were there seeing and feeling it for yourself.

  14. I am about to read Rowan the Strange and I have a very good feeling about the book. If it’s as good as the comments, it will be brill. Well, I hope so at least! 🙂

  15. This book was original, certainly not like anything that I have ever read before. This meant that I was slightly dubious at the start of the book and I didn’t really begin to enjoy the book until I had become familiar with the style and the content.
    The characters were interesting and very easy to sympathise with. Readers can especially relate to Rowan, the main character who has schizophrenia and is entered into a mental asylum to try and treat his condition. Here he receives electric shock therapy. This has many side-effects, which can include loss of memory and burnt or stinging patches of skin. The book follows Rowan’s experiences at the mental asylum and describes how the treatment changes him as a person. It is also about the effect the treatment has on his relationship with his family.
    The book is set at the start of the Second World War. This is integral to the book as the plot is enhanced by the tense mood that England was under at the time which affects the characters in different ways.
    I loved the character Dorothea, Rowan’s friend who he meets at the asylum, and I particularly enjoyed the parts of the book where she featured most. I thought that the bond that Rowan and Dorothea formed through having similar conditions was fascinating and I loved how the book followed both characters through their stages of treatment.
    The style of writing that Julie Hearn uses is enthralling, making me believe every word of the book which I became immersed in. The writing added details to the characters and helped me to identify with all of them- even the minor ones.
    Rowan the Strange is definitely a book to be recommended to teenagers. If you are stuck for something to read I would suggest this book, even if it seems like something you wouldn’t usually pick up off the shelf.

    By Hilary

    Rowan the Strange is one of those books that you can imagine everybody enjoying. Despite the rather sinister, serious theme of the book, I found a warmth within the story that really appealed to me. Maybe it was the sympathetic descriptions of the characters, or maybe it was the way Julie Hearn made me completely understand the agonising limitations of patients in asylums that made me feel such a strong connection with the book as a whole. I think that setting the book in the time of World War 2 was a very effective technique in that it set up the hatred for the German doctor in the hospital.
    Although Rowan Scrivener is the main character in this story, I became very attached to the character: Dorothea de Ver. Julie Hearn has crafted a boisterous, opinionated girl with a hidden insecurity and sense of fragility other than that of her hallucinations. The very fact that Dorothea is portrayed as a very loud, head-strong character makes the shock of her death hit the reader so much harder. It is easy to feel the lament of the patients in Ward 5 hidden behind the solemn, expressionless exteriors that Julie Hearn so realistically describes. As well as the patients’ sorrows, prejudice is very prominent in terms of how the hospital staff and locals feel about Doctor Von Metzer working in the hospital. The scene near the end of the book where the Doctor is confronted by Nurse Springfield and a gang of opposers is a very touching scene on behalf of Rowan Scrivener who defiantly protects the honour of this German doctor he has grown to trust and love so much.
    My favourite part of Rowan the Strange was the trip to Canterbury with Doctor Von and his Ward Five test cases; John Wallace, Sid, Donald and Rowan. A trip that would cause such excitement and interest within a group of school children or adults on a day trip, aroused such anxiety and worry amongst the patients- this is described vividly by Julie Hearn. Sid, one of Rowan’s fellow patients, is simply conversing with another visitor at the cathedral when he is gripped with a sudden urge to grab the man’s arm and interrogate him in a rather patronizing way. The manner in which Rowan narrates this section of the book is very effective and fascinating in that he is constantly repeating that the behaviour of the patients would seem very normal back in the hospital but not in the normal world where they don’t belong.
    I have only a slight criticism with Rowan the Strange and that is that I would have really liked to have heard a bit more about Laurel’s reaction to Rowan’s outburst concerning her piano playing before he is admitted to the hospital. I feel that Laurel as a character is neglected quite significantly. All in all, Rowan the Strange was one of my favourite books from the shortlist and no doubt, I will rank it highly due to the excellent entertainment it turned out to be.

    By Jessica

    To say that this book will open your eyes to a whole new world is a serious understatement. Ever since turning the final page (and crying my eyes out on the way) I have looked at the world in a whole new light, especially through Rowan’s struggle with schizophrenia. The book was extremely well-written; paced slow enough to keep it perfectly realistic while fast enough to keep you chained to its pages. Rowan fights many difficult alternating battles in his little ward at the Mental Institution, (least of which seems to be the actual war that is raging throughout England at the time!) that kept me hooked, laughing and bawling. In the midst of such a dark plot, it doesn’t seem possible but this book is also light and funny but it honestly made me snort my juice through my nose at one point!

    By Lucy

  16. I feel sorry for Rowan because he can’t control his actions so he has to go to a place to fix his mind. This book always makes you want to read more. I’d love to read it again

  17. Rowan the Strange is, as the title would suggest, strange. In fact, it’s more than strange. It’s bizarre, it’s odd and it’s ever so slightly mad. And you know what? It’s absolutely damn brilliant.
    In a world where the teenage bestseller lists consist of endless stretches of blacks and reds hinting at equally endless, recycled faux-Gothic romances, I cannot deny a definite sense of admiration for author Julie Hearn began to mount before finishing the first page. By the fiftieth, I was intrigued- by the one hundred and fiftieth gripped and by the last few pages simply enthralled. Not only is this a delight to read, but as a writer (and a pretty bad one at that) Hearn’s pleasingly sophisticated style is a breath of fresh air from other books I will not grace by mentioning their names and goes to prove that, to be a popular writer regardless of genre or audience, you need to be able to tell a good story, and tell it well.
    And Hearn can tell it well.
    The characters became part of me- the porcelain whites of the asylum like a second home to me. Without overcomplicating the plot with self-indulgent, unprofessional descriptive sections, Rowan The Strange has an almost uncanny knack for conjuring images- not always particularly pleasant ones, perhaps, but powerful nonetheless- with an inventive mix of styles (Gaiman or Bradbury spring to mind) monologues and structures that compliment each other perfectly. There are even neat nods to literature’s legends (the last scenes are positively perfectly Shelley-esque and recurring themes that I shan’t spoil for you- it’s simply to rewarding to discover them for yourself- wouldn’t look out of place in Poe’s darkly macabre asylums) and a constantly powerful imagery throughout. Don’t believe me? Try staying unmoved by a scene involving a Christmas card from Nazi Germany or the richly metaphorical pantomime performance.
    And there’s another one of the book’s strengths- the setting of Britain at the beginning of the war is seen in an almost ethereal, surrealist light, subtly evoking thoughts that will stay with you long after reading the book- thoughts it would, perhaps, have been nicer not to have been introduced to.
    So is Rowan the Strange a conventional teenage (and in light of the aforementioned sophistication and restraint displayed by an extraordinary writer, I feel a little guilty giving it that label) book? No, not by a long way. But it’s so much better that way- a strange book best enjoyed if you’re a little strange yourself.

  18. Rowan The Strange was a very unusual book with a peculiar plot but I did enjoy the book and thought it was good to read a book which was different to the average book! x 🙂

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