153. London Calling by Edward Bloor
Publication: Knopf Books for Young Readers (February 12, 2008), ebook, 306pp / ISBN 0375843639
Genre: YA Fiction, Sci-fi, Historical Fiction (sort of)
Read: November 19, 2011
Source: Singapore Public Library
Summary from Amazon:
Martin Conway comes from a family filled with heroes and disgraces. His grandfather was a statesman who worked at the US Embassy in London during WWII. His father is an alcoholic who left his family. His sister is an overachieving Ivy League graduate. And Martin? Martin is stuck in between–floundering.
But during the summer after 7th grade, Martin meets a boy who will change his life forever. Jimmy Harker appears one night with a deceptively simple question: Will you help?
Where did this boy come from, with his strange accent and urgent request? Is he a dream? It’s the most vivid dream Martin’s ever had. And he meets Jimmy again and again–but how can his dreams be set in London during the Blitz? How can he see his own grandather, standing outside the Embassy? How can he wake up with a head full of people and facts and events that he certainly didn’t know when he went to sleep–but which turn out to be verifiably real? [snipped]
I’ve read a few of Edward Bloor’s other books, including Crusader which I reviewed here back in 2009. What I like best about all his books is how well he writes teenage characters. All his teenagers feel like real teenagers. They’re smart, but they do stupid things. They have prejudices, but they’re able to change. They have adventures that maybe aren’t the stuff of action movies, but are nevertheless life-changing.
London Calling is by the far the most “unrealistic” of Edward Bloor’s books, by which I mean it’s got time travel and ghosts and things to do with the afterlife. I think it’s also got the least amount of emotional punch to it, which is unfortunate because generally his books have a lot of emotional depth. While there’s plenty of emotions in this book, they don’t ring as true to life as the same emotions do in his other books. Plus, London Calling suffers from two big writing problems: it reads like a FAQ to World War II and it has a blah ending.
I’ll admit that I didn’t get a lot of info about WWII in school, and what I did get was from the Americans’ point of view. London Calling features a British ghost and, in the time travel bits, a British setting. It’s interesting to learn more about what life was like for kids during WWII, especially those who stayed behind in London (during the Blitz, even!). And having a modern American kid as the protagonist just makes it all the more interesting, because he doesn’t know anything about it, really, and I like the “stranger in a strange land” plot thingy.
However, that does make for a lot of exposition, and explaining, and near info-dumps for the majority of the book. That stuff? Is boring. It’s maybe interesting the first two or three times, but when probably about 60% of the book is like that? Ugh. The other stuff mostly makes up for it, what with the exciting time travel/omg somebody’s gonna die/defeating the school bully storylines, but…it did drag the book down a lot.
Speaking of the bully: I found myself surprised and disappointed about how Martin resolved his issue with the bully. In EB’s other books it always seemed that the kids defeated their adversaries via non-violent, intelligent/clever ways. They defeated them with words, and I thought that was seriously cool. In London Calling, however, Martin defeats his bully in two ways. First, he defeats him by exposing the bully’s supposedly heroic ancestor as a fraud. The bully’s family gets the wind blown out of their sails and their stranglehold over the school and town is (I guess) over. Fantastic! I like that kind of defeat. It’s elegant, in a way. Secondly, though, Martin beats the bully up. He even goes so far as to break a painting over the top of the bully’s head! That? Is not clever. It’s unnecessarily violent and almost slapstick in its ridiculousness. I expected something better from EB’s characters than that sort of thing.
For all that I have complaints about the info dumping, the weak ending, the unnecessary violence, I did mostly enjoy London Calling. I liked the time travel, the fact that Martin and his family were religious1, Martin’s sister, who unfortunately spent most of her time being a walking encyclopedia for Martin (I liked her despite that), and the relationships between Martin and his family. It’s not a perfect book, and I’d probably recommend reading one of EB’s other books first before this one if you’ve never read anything of his before, but it’s nevertheless an entertaining book. It’s unfortunate that it’s just not as good as I wanted it to be, I suppose.
I liked it, but I didn’t like the ending or the feeling that I was back in school learning about WWII.
Leafing Through Life: “What emerges is a page-turner of a time travel story, a sweet coming of age story, and a good lesson about the significance of family ties and the importance of “doing your bit” to make a difference in the lives around you.”
Reading Rumpus: “London Calling is an ambitious novel. It hits three genres squarely and offers multi-layered themes while switching through present and past settings. Mr. Bloor is an excellent writer and manages to keep the genre-setting-time-plot hopping in check, but he does so at the expense of character development. The multi-layered themes are excellent for discussion, especially for social studies educators.”
Bookshelves of Doom: “There were so many plot lines and issues* that none of them felt fully explored, the coincidences were just too much for me**, and there was a whole lot more Telling than Showing. The Telling could be chalked up to the adult-telling-a-secret-story-from-his-childhood-voice and Big-F-Faith factors in heavily, so the coincidences could be chalked up to Act of God/God’s Great Plan, but neither worked for me.”
- though I’m not religious myself, it’s nice to read about a family that IS, for once. They even go to church! Mostly YA books nowadays seem to be populated with secular characters, despite the fact that there’s a large religious presence in the US at least. London Calling is a good example of having a religious character without being “preachy” as well. ↩