I want to begin by saying that I think Katherine Patterson is enormously talented author and her book The Great Gilly Hopkins is one of my all-time favorites. It is precisely because of my past experience with Patterson’s work that I was anxious to read The Flint Heart.
Unfortunately, The Flint Heart was a disappointment for me. I probably would not have actually finished the book had I not been confident that Patterson’s extraordinary gifts would eventually break through. For me, at least, this was not the case.
The story is a retelling of an old tale about a heart, or amulet-like stone, made from flint which leeches the goodness from whomever possesses it, replacing it with cold ruthlessness. The first couple of chapters relate the creation of the flint heart for a warrior who is determined to take over as chieftain of his tribe. By the end of the second chapter the stage seems to be set for the good vs. evil saga of the flint heart.
What actually occurs, however, is just a chain of events that exist without any well-developed characters to motivate the reader to care about them. Centuries after its creation a once kind, loving father finds the “heart” and is transformed into a cruel man bearing no resemblance to the father beloved by his children. His son, Charles, determined to help return his father to his original state, seeks help from the magical underground world of Pixies.
It is at this point that the story begins its surprising descent into the banal. Too much time is spent describing the trappings of fairy banquets and not enough on Charles and his younger sister. The story gets too bogged down in the external language trappings of folkloric tradition without ever connecting with the reader on a personal level. We are never motivated to identify with or care about Charles to any substantial degree. The characters are lost in fairy banquet descriptions and so is the reader’s stake in the resolution of the story.
Although I highly recommend most of Ms. Patterson’s other work, I did not enjoy The Flint Heart and would not recommend it as either a read-aloud or an independent reading selection.