Date finished: Wednesday 30th November 2016
First time reading?: No
From Goodreads: “It is 1939 and Britain stands on the brink of the Second World War.
Young Willie Beech is evacuated to a small country village where he is placed with Tom Oakley, a widower who has kept himself to himself ever since his wife died in childbirth many years before.
A sad, withdrawn child, Willie is at first frightened of the abruptly spoken old man, but gradually grows accustomed to his gruff manner and begins to flourish under the surprisingly gentle, nurturing care of ‘Mister Tom’. As a special bond of friendship develops between them, Willie gains self-confidence, makes new friends and discovers hidden talents, while Tom slowly allows himself to be drawn back into community life.
Then, quite suddenly, their new-found happiness is shattered when Willie receives a summons from his mother to return immediately to Blitz-torn London…”
I remember reading this book for the first time in primary school; I actually recall having to write a book blurb as a homework assignment and this was the book I chose to do it on of all things. Reading it again as an adult is an almost entirely different experience.
The domestic abuse Will suffered at the hands of his mother feels far more apparent in the read as a grown up; I don’t know whether this was just plain ignorance of my younger self or due to a slightly more preceptive grown up point of view, but either way the abuse screams it’s way off the page right from the start of this novel. When he receives the telegram from his mother demanding he return home the sense of dread that builds up is possibly worse reading the book as an adult.
I’m a big fan of WWII. It’s one of my favourite periods of history to read about and study. This novel explores all of the elements of the war; evacuation of youngsters to the country, the feel of war torn London, the loss of friends and family due to war. This is all touched upon beautifully within the narrative with that dark undercurrent of what Will experienced at the hands of his mother.
Most of my memories of this story lie within the made for TV movie starring John Thaw as the titular Mister Tom, and upon my re-read this month I enjoyed all the aspects of the novel that were cut from the movie. A holiday Will takes with Mister Tom and his best friend Zach, Will’s penchant for the stage – all small but significant moments in Will’s life in the country with Mister Tom.
This book is just as impacting a read as an adult as it was for myself as a ten year old – if not more so because I feel I got more out of it reading it now than I did when I was younger. You really get a feel for how tough Will’s life was before Mister Tom took him in in just a few pages, and his return to his mother (while over in just two chapters) leaves a stark reminder in your mind just how cruel a woman his mother was.
I’m glad I decided to revisit this novel; as mentioned previously, I feel I got a lot more out of it reading it as a grown up than I did previously. Definitely a book to recommend both to a child to expand their reading habits into slightly longer novels, and to adults who love a good bit or dramatic fiction.
My rating: 9/10