April 2010, David Fickling Books
384 pages, Hardback
Review copy - this book has been nominated for the Carnegie Award, which is why I was offered the opportunity to review it.
Lots of humour and equally a lot fear and sadness, evil medical villains, disguises, newspaper scams, life in the 1920's, single parenting, post offices, old telephone operators, mob mentality, friendship and family.
Summary from Random House Children's Books
SPECIAL OFFER - THE SECRET OF INSTANT DELIGHT! Be the first to read Johnny Swanson!
The book that's got the nation talking - yours by return of post.
All is revealed:
The truth about the Stambleton murder
The facts behind the TB scare
The real identity of Ada Ardour
And one boy's fight to save his mother's life!
All this, and the answer to the burning question of 1929:
What on earth is a CLONG?
(To find out, send a P.O. for 2/6 to Box 90)
Covers always create an impression of what the story is about. Usually it works. Sometimes I don't like the cover. In this case, the cover captures the essence of the story perfectly. On the back is an envelope and some money, which provides the basis for Johnny's scams. On the front flap Johnny has written an ad for the book, similar to how he would write his scams. I found Hutch's comment hilarious.
Ok, the summary from RHCB might make you think huh? Basically Johnny lives with his mother. For one reason and another he responds to an ad in the paper which is in fact a scam. Disappointed at being ripped off, Johnny feels guilty for taking the money from his mother (without telling her) and wants to pay her back .He can't get enough money on his meagre paper round. So he decides to write a scam in the paper. It takes a bit of planning and several small lies. This lies have huge implications for Johnny later on in the novel. Serious ones. They lead to his mother being tried as a suspect for murder. The whole town turns against Johnny.
He manages to avoid going in to care, but only because of his scam. The scam mostly causes trouble, but it also saves Johnny and his mother at the end. I was saddened but not surprised at how people act towards Johnny when his mother is a suspect. He has a few who stand by him, and there is a wonderful (if a little predictable) surprise at the end of the story involving one of the people. I loved finding out how telephones worked, and also more about the old money system. I was horrified by how Johnny's friend was treated in the sanatorium. Life was - and in places still is - very cruel for orphans.
I thought this was going to be a light hearted book once I started reading it. It was, but a few serious issues are addressed, as well as being a powerful insight into the life back in 1929.
I haven't read any other books by Eleanor but you can find out more about her and her other books on her website.
Other books to try include Missing! Believed Crazy by Terence Blacker