13 Hangmen by Art Corriveau (2012, 342 pages) is not a story to read with half a brain. It has a relatively involved plot, and if you don’t pay attention you may get confused, which was my sad fate over winter vacation. I will share info about the book of which I am sure, and stay away from that which is hazy in my head.
The story begins, as so many middle grade time travel tales do, with a family move to a new (old) house in a new town, in this case Boston. The house has been left to the family of five by elderly relative Angelo who just passed away. No one gives much thought to a clause in the will that states only his great-nephew seventh-grader Tony is allowed to have the attic room as his bedroom. Tony is happy to move from Michigan, mainly because he is tired of sharing a room with his annoying twin brothers. The family doesn’t have much money and are excited about the free house.
When they arrive in Boston, however, they discover the house needs many major repairs. They lack the funds necessary, so the Board of Health is threatening to throw them out. Also, there is the matter of the mean old man, Mr. Hagmann, who lives next door who seems to hate Tony’s family. Tony’s dad was coincidentally the last person to see Angelo alive, on a recent visit to Boston, and Mr. Hagmann actually tells the police that Tony’s dad Michael murdered Angelo!
A few days after the family’s move to Boston is Tony’s 13th birthday. The night before his birthday, Tony sets a Red Sox cap Angelo had given him on a unique, built-in shelf in his attic room. When Tony wakes up the next morning, there is another boy his age in his room! The boy says he is Angelo, the attic bedroom is his and he also just turned 13 yesterday. He tells Tony the year is 1939. Angelo informs Tony that the current members of the Hagmann family next door are creating problems for his family, too.
Little by little, Tony meets other thirteen-year-old boys who formerly inhabited this attic room. They time travel to Tony’s room when he puts a unique object with some special meaning to those individuals on the shelf. The boys include an Irish immigrant, from a time when there was a lot of prejudice against this group in Boston, a runaway slave, and Paul Revere’s apprentice. We are provided with extensive back story on all the boys. Together they try to figure out why the different generations of Hagmann’s seem to hate them so much. They brainstorm together to figure out ways to keep the Hagmann from ruining all their lives.
I loved the central plot concept of Tony meeting boys who previously lived in the room and learning about the serious issues with which they struggled. It was funny at times, and Tony was likeable. Perhaps I’m a literary lightweight, but I found the plot unnecessarily complex for my taste. If you know a boy who likes mysteries and is turning 13, this book could make a good birthday gift.