Time Travelling with a Hamster by Ross Welford
|Time Travelling with a Hamster by Ross Welford|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A book with a heck of a lot going for it for the target audience, but one I had several small problems with, for different reasons.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 400||Date: January 2016|
|Publisher: Harper Collins Children's Books|
|External links: Author's website|
Longlisted for the Branford Boase Award 2016
Shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize 2017: Younger Fiction
Longlisted for the 2017 CILIP Carnegie Medal
Meet Al Chaudhury. He lives, unknowingly, among a family of time travellers. His grandfather has such a brilliant memory he can use a mind palace to store anything and everything, and could tell you what happened on every day of his life, and take himself back with his thoughts. His father knows the starlight at night is years old, and is a snapshot of a sun that is remote both in time and space. But even harder to fathom is that Al's father is a real time traveller, and is going to speak from beyond the grave, and send Al on a true mission through time, one that will either save his life, or completely ruin all Al's forevers, for, er, for ever.
There is a lot going for this book, and I can see many people giving it a huge word of mouth boost. At its best it has the real charm of a great read for the young (it's pitched at 10+, which seems right to me), and while it won't sit fully well with a universal adult audience, I wouldn't put it past it being picked up by many. In fact, let's just save time (pun intended) and come out with it – this has a lot in common with Mark Haddon's Curious Incident, which most famously did cross over from one bookstore shelf to the other. To start with there is the slightly savant attitude of Al – a lot rubs off from his trivia-filled grandfather, he writes quite charming lists, and he is presented in just a spot-on idiom (narrative sentences where he addresses us by starting with OK, or the ubiquitous So…).
Oh, and he has a hamster, which really did bring to mind the image of the Curious stage show and the way the rat-in-a-box gets flung round. I can't really see much else that demands the hamster's presence – yes, it forces the plot along at times, and brings in an incredibly unsavoury feel to one dramatic scene by proxy, but it didn't need to be there. Touches of distinctive colour also come across from Al not only living in the far north-east of England, but being half-cast, although the narrative never works out what derivation his Anglo-Asian background actually is. Al quite patronisingly introduces us to Geordie words he thinks we might not understand. Just because he cannot identify a milkfloat doesn't mean we aren't on top of things.
Now, to that mission I mentioned, and the reference to dramatic scenes. There are a lot of them, and there is a lot to the mission, a lot of which I enjoyed, but I did feel some bits of the adventure rubbed me up the wrong way. I think if you sat down with the author and talked timey-wimey stuff you would eventually be convinced by his thoughts on the matter, but to me some of the rules he applies here seem a little illogical, and then force him to both have his cake and eat it in order to get the best out of his circumstances.
But it is the strength of those circumstances we turn to for the endearing picture the book leaves. Al is fine company, forever fretting, and rightly so, about having to keep on top of his action, and with a large cast of people getting in the way there is a lot of action – plenty of derring-do needed to overcome a host of handicaps thrown his way. It's to the credit of the book it's written with such clarity that you can rush pell-mell through it and still keep to mind where and when the hero is, and what the current problem is. The artistic voice is most literate and bright on these pages. I don't think it'll become a global smash a la the Haddon, nor a stage play (it's incredibly filmic, although cinema people would have change names (a bully called Jolyon?, someone in the 1990s called Ava?) and try and drop a disturbing and most copycat-friendly scene of animal peril), but I can see people – especially in the target audience – dismissing my problems with it and just loving it. I had a good time with it – it will be up to others to deem this meeting with Al an A1 experience.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
Some sellers are equating this with Wonder by R J Palacio in the hope it does as well. We'd shelve it next to Confessions of an Imaginary Friend by Michelle Cuevas.
You can read more book reviews or buy Time Travelling with a Hamster by Ross Welford at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Time Travelling with a Hamster by Ross Welford at Amazon.com.
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