7th grader Martin is aimless and unhappy and, if
not already there, well on his way to full blown depression. He
hates his private Catholic school, his parents are separated,
his father's an alcoholic and his mother "lives in the glorious
past of her father and mother, and in the glorious future of her
daughter and son"; but Martin feels oppressed by his family's
"glorious past" and doesn't see anything glorious in his future.
Things change when his grandmother dies leaving him a
Philco 20 Deluxe radio that had belonged to his grandfather,
and he starts to have strange, very real dreams about World War
II London, dreams that he eventually realizes are real.
London Calling tackles some big topics and ethical dilemmas, including religion, alcoholism and what makes a hero. It also puts the contemporary human perspective on what, thanks to Winston Churchill's 1940 speech and his memoirs, is now thought of as Britain's "finest hour". The people Martin meets in the bombed out streets of London in the snapshot of time that he visits aren't feeling that it's their finest anything and, for that matter, they're not feeling particularly warm about old Winnie either - puffed up with his big speeches while keeping himself nice and safe. They're also not keen on the Yanks, who are "all playboys and too afraid to fight", and see Joseph Kennedy, the American Ambassador to Britain at the time, as a case in point.*
As I've mentioned before, we read aloud to our children every school day morning. They're now 12 and 14 and perfectly capable of reading to themselves but the time we've carved out for the "morning reading parties" is special and gets the day off to a great start; last year, we read London Calling and, from ages 11 to 45, all enjoyed it. From the children's point of view, the action took a little too long to pick up, we were about a third of the way through the book before Martin had his first time travel experience, but from then on we became truly engaged in Martin's life and ready to root for him as he takes on his personal demons and rights some historical wrongs. We recommend London Calling for readers aged about 11-15 who enjoy historical fiction and are mature enough to enjoy a book that poses more questions than it gives answers.
*Kennedy did not support Churchill's view that compromise with
Nazi Germany was impossible, and instead sided with Prime
Minister Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement; he was
also strongly anti-Semitic. He resigned as Ambassador in
November 1940 when Roosevelt shifted from neutrality to a more
aggressive anti-Germany stance. Later, Kennedy changed his
position and supported Roosevelt's Lend-Lease proposal. His oldest son, Joe, was killed in a high-risk bombing attack over Germany in 1944.
Via the Lend-Lease program, the USA supplied the UK, and to a lesser extent other allied nations including China and Russia, with war materials in return for military bases overseas. Lend-Lease began 9 months after Pearl Harbor and was abruptly terminated by the US immediately after V-J day. Britain needed to retain some of the leased equipment after the war, so an Anglo-American loan of £1,075 million was agreed, which was finally paid off in 2006.
This review was originally published in November 2006, and has been updated for the February 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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