I was completely unaware how long this book was (I read it on my kindle) but I did know it was aimed at children as I have read Magorian’s two previous excellent novels – Back Home and Goodnight Mister Tom.
This is the story of Henry, just Henry because as we discover throughout the story he is coming to terms with not being who he thought he was a Dodge and then a Carpenter, growing up with one ideal and heroic view of life and his past only to see it shatter in front of his very eyes and a new future build in front of him with far reaching consequences.
Henry lives with his mother, his half sister Molly and his ‘Uncle’ Bill. Also residing in the front room is Gran, the mother of his lost heroic father who died saving Private Jeffries. Gran is the one who is keeping Henry’s father alive and making sure that he leads a life his father wanted. This has isolated Henry and when a new school teacher, Mr Finch makes him work with two what his Gran calls undesirables, Jeffries (whose father is a deserter) and Pip (who is illegitimate) Henry has to face a lot of prejudices all of them born from himself.
Through the medium of post war Britain trying to recover Magorian creates a world where we learn about the bomb sites which are picked over by the local children, what was left from destruction by the bombing, rationing is still on and everyone is trying to make do and mend five years after the war has ended. Magorian uses cinemas and films to unite all the youngsters and the adults in the film.
This is where there is no class divide, where it does not matter about your parentage but where everyone enjoys the images on the screen. The choice of films and cinemas is in abundance and where showings are followed by smaller films, newsreels, cartoons and then the big feature again. To enable Henry to watch all these films he needs to have someone take him into the cinema, in the days when just asking an adult in the queue was common. This is how Henry meets Mrs Beaumont and his life and all those he knows changes.
Mrs Beaumont is the guardian angel of this story, her position, her knowledge; the people she knows and her home are open to all regardless of their background, their position, their knowledge and where they live. Some might say you have to suspend belief that this woman just seemed to have the money and wherewithal to help but actually it does not matter all it does is enhance the story.
What is created in a book which draws you in within about twenty pages and has everything that you could possibly want in a novel, romance, crime, a thriller element and justice and a happy ending.
For adults read this book, you would not know you were reading something which is pitched at children. For children I think if they have tackled the large volumes of Harry Potter then this (and Magorian’s other novels) could be easily absorbed and enjoyed by them and they would be learning about history probably without even reading it. A book to be read out aloud together and then read alone to enjoy more and more.
I was aware of this book earlier in the year, and had planned to read it but when I saw it was being adapted into a TV drama then I was wanting to read it even more. Then it came up on offer on Amazon Kindle for 99p on the same day as the TV broadcast so no question I bought it and read it. I had no idea until I went back and read reviews that the book was so long over 700 pages – it is difficult to tell on the kindle. What a corker considering the book is aimed at children. I have yet to watch the programme.
I do not know what Michelle Magorian has apart from being born in the same area as me, she manages to capture something in all her books. They all have the theme of the Second World War, before, during and after and the research I think she must do is faultless. At the acknowledgements at the back of Just Henry she has referenced the Portsmouth Museum and the book The Cinemas of Portsmouth. I know from both my parents that there was plenty of cinemas in Portsmouth and I am aware of many of their locations, some knocked down, others are pound shops, pubs, nightclubs and sadly some standing derelict. Long before the multiplex where I spent a couple of years working whilst at University.
I think is my memory serves me right, I read Back Home long before Goodnight Mister Tom. It really did move me and stuck with me for a long time. Goodnight Mister Tom was read at school when I was about 13/14 and we spent a whole term on the book, and had to draw maps of the village from what the book told us and it became a whole project. I loved the book and then when it was adapted for television with the wonderful John Thaw it captured the book entirely as I had imagine it, something which I think rarely happens with adaptations.
I could actually write a lot about this book, as so much happens in it but to do so would actually give a lot of the book away and I think you should be able to find out about the book all by yourself. For someone who did film history as part of my history degree and therefore a fan of both old films and history this book appealed even more. I had really no idea what I was getting with this book at all and I got so much and more.