I love history. In small doses. I’ve always thought one of the fun qualities of time travel stories in which a character journeys to the past, is that as a reader you get to learn about that time period. It’s like historical fiction lite. But the history in London Calling by Edward Bloor, (2006, 289 pages) was not meted out in small pieces. All the history would be enjoyable for WWII buffs but caused me to glaze over. Also, too much of the history was about Famous White Men. Do you ever read a work of fiction and the subject matter is just not that interesting, and you can’t figure out why the author chose this particular subject matter, until you decide the subject matter must have been a pet interest of the author? Yeah, I believe this is one one of those books.
Summary from Goodreads:
Martin Conway comes from a family filled with heroes and disgraces. His grandfather was a statesman who worked at the US Embassy in London during WWII. His father is an alcoholic who left his family. His sister is an overachieving Ivy League graduate. And Martin? Martin is stuck in between–floundering.
But during the summer after 7th grade, Martin meets a boy who will change his life forever. Jimmy Harker appears one night with a deceptively simple question: Will you help?
Where did this boy come from, with his strange accent and urgent request? Is he a dream? It’s the most vivid dream Martin’s ever had. And he meets Jimmy again and again–but how can his dreams be set in London during the Blitz? How can he see his own grandfather, standing outside the Embassy? How can he wake up with a head full of people and facts and events that he certainly didn’t know when he went to sleep–but which turn out to be verifiably real?
I really liked the main character, who at the beginning of the novel is a proficient slacker who believes he needs two naps a day. Of course he evolves, and becomes an anti-slacker. I liked that his transformation involves trying to answer the important question for himself, “What did you do to help?”. But by the end of the book he was actually too perfect for my taste. I did smile at the funny banter with his two best friends, both in person and via texting. I enjoyed the heartfelt conversations with his two parents.
It is helpful in a time travel book to have an Expert. This character, often an absent-minded professor or a brainiac kid, conveys information that an average person would not know but that is essential in order for the reader to make sense of the time period. As a reader of time travel stories, I am willing to suspend disbelief that an expert is conveniently found whenever a time travel adventure is at hand. But this story had not one, but three experts: a seventh- grader who could identify a Rembrant painting at a glance; a sister who worked for an encyclopedia, and was like a walking encyclopedia; and her similarly packed-full-of-facts coworker. Too many experts, not buying it.
The plot did not grab me. Even the blurb did not grab me, but I was intrigued by the old-radio-as-time-travel-portal (remember that great movie Frequency?) and I was hoping that would carry me through. It didn’t. Bullying is a minor theme in the book. I was so disappointed with how the main character resolves this problem (spoiler alert: basically by becoming as thuggish as his tormenter, and beating up another man for good measure.)
I feel like there must be other time travel stories that use a radio as the time travel device, but nothing comes to mind. I remember listening to a short-wave radio years ago before internet, (yeah, I’m that old) and it was magical to listen to voices from countries far away. I can totally picture hearing voices on a special radio that are actually from people in the past. Please leave a note in comments if you can think of any time travel books that have a radio “portal”!
Here is an very thoughtful review by a book blogger. Although London Calling wasn’t my cup of tea, it has garnered some excellent reviews, and even awards, so there’s that.
For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday book reviews, go to Shannon Messenger’s blog and follow the links!