Just Henry by Michelle Magorian
|Just Henry by Michelle Magorian|
|Reviewer: Karen Inskip-Hayward|
|Summary: A thrilling romp for teens and film fans alike. Watch those 700 pages fly by!|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 720||Date: May 2008|
|Publisher: Egmont Books Ltd|
I haven't read anything by Michelle Magorian previously, but I have been aware of her name a long time. This novel – Just Henry – is aimed at teenagers and presumably competent and enthusiastic readers, as it is over 700 pages.
It follows the exploits of Henry Dodge, a boy in his final year of school, living in post-War Britain. His father died a war hero and he now lives with his mother and stepfather, younger sister Molly and his grandmother.
His main love is going to the cinema and the book is punctuated throughout with details of his visits and the films he sees. This gives a fascinating insight as to what was popular at the time and I felt it really helped to give the novel a flavour and a convincing background. Being a big film fan myself, I especially enjoyed this aspect and reading about films from the time.
As we go through the book, Henry makes new friends along the way, so we soon get a nice little gang to follow. There are Pip and Jeffries - his friends from school, Grace – the young girl who shares his love of cinema and Mrs. Beaumont – a woman who he meets, because she helps him get into A-rated films, where he needs an adult to accompany him.
This group of people are really well written and you soon feel you know them. Each character has their own back-story and their own journey to make throughout the pages of the novel.
Early on, Henry doesn't talk to Pip and Jeffries, because his Gran has told him not to. This is because Pip is illegitimate and Jeffries' father is a deserter. Society's views and prejudices are examined through these two and their mothers, and in this way, the young readers also get drawn into it and form their own opinions. Although very subtle, this would hopefully be a good talking point and could be used to illustrate the way people become racist or homophobic and to show up how stupid it is.
The novel is a bit slow to begin, but ends up a page turner and it covers lots of emotions as it moves through its story. It covers drama, thriller and some comedy as well. I found it easy to read and after a while, I was looking forward to getting back to it and discovering what was going to happen. It all built up at a very good pace and was very exciting over the last couple of hundred pages.
While initially being very aware it was a novel written for children, by the end of it, I realised it didn't matter. It's not a book which patronises its readers and the cover is beautifully done and not at all childish, so I would be happy to read this on the bus. It is certainly suitable for adults too, especially if they are interested in this era of history and its films and culture. I felt the setting was very realistic and well-researched.
The novel examines family life in its many forms and each of the main families featured here were unconventional – single mum with a child, step-families, widowers, etc – but still loving, caring, nurturing and successful. It also plays with stereotypes and fools you a bit, as various family members start off seemingly nice and their true colours are only revealed later on. Similarly, characters you don't really like much initially end up becoming your favourites, so it has plenty of twists and turns to hold your interest and is rarely predictable.
If I had to think of one criticism, it would be that the last chapter seemed a bit unnecessary and I felt it dragged somewhat. But otherwise, it was a really good book with great writing style, wonderful characters and plenty of action.
Buy it for your kids (I would suggest 12-16 year olds) and borrow it yourself!
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
If this book appeals to then you might also enjoy Once Upon a Time in the North by Philip Pullman.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.