Time Travelling with a Hamster by Ross Welford (Harper Collins)
I approached this book skeptically. The title suggested something dimly lit, a syncopated copy of other books, one trying to catch a popular wave of incredulous humour. How wrong could I be? Other readers, who may have the urge to avoid this book that I had, listen up, for this is a tremendous story, truly original, well written and empathetic. It reads like a screenplay, with reminiscent settings beginning with a ‘Flight of the Navigator’ style opening.
Life changes for our hero, Al, in a rather Harry Potter like way, on his twelfth birthday. when his photographic memory laden grandfather, delivers Al a letter from his father. It instructs him to break into the under garage floor workroom of their former home, where his father worked on a variety of secret scientific projects until his death, four years earlier. Al and his mother are settled into his stepfather’s home, with his Goth stepsister Carly. He copes with school, is fairly isolated and indistinguishable, but then Al likes it that way. He knows enough to get on with people, to cope when his stepfather gives him a Newcastle United shirt for his birthday, although Al has never liked football, particularly.
Al’s seeming invisibility, his search for sense from his father’s letter, makes his behaviour and disappearance both more and less appropriate.
The book is wrongly placed in High Street bookshop shelves for this is not an early age reader. It is appropriate to older readers. Themes such as fitting in, relationships (real relationships such as exist in real families), racial and cultural differences, bereavement, finding your feet and coping socially, are offered through Al, who suggests a real twelve year old’s sensibilities, enquiry and experience (maybe without the time travel!)
I loved this book because of Al’s normality, albeit in the strangest of circumstances, the characters, his ordinary situation in a suburb of Newcastle, the fact he is mixed race, the fact he is a happy boy with a coping mechanism. I did not feel that Ross Welford was ‘ticking boxes’ as he wrote, but that he really knows and identifies with Al; that he really likes him, as we do.
I recommend this story highly to any readers and shall look forward to reading more titles by Ross Welford. http://bookwagon.co.uk/product/time-travelling-hamster/