Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sneak Peeks with K.E. Weeks: The Grave

This feature is presented by guest blogger, K.E.Weeks.
The Grave by James Henegan ($9.99; Laurel Leaf; June 11, 2002) is an historical fiction story inside an historical fiction/science fiction story. That is not as tricky as it sounds. The book begins in Liverpool in 1974 when a neglected thirteen-year-old foster boy, Tom Mullen, goes poking around a mass grave site near a church where a new school is being built. He feels drawn to the pit of coffins and eventually falls in— into Ireland in 1847 during the Irish Potato Famine. Thus, the historical fiction story (1847) is inside the historical fiction/science fiction story (1974).
 The premise is clever and based on real events, including the mass grave unearthing in Old Swan in 1974 and the Irish Potato Famine. Tom is a likeable character, although he has bad habits of lying and stealing food (“nicking,” as he says). The historical details of the area and time period are solid and detailed. Sadly, the book suffers from a lack of depth and plotting. Mainly, the story lacks credibility, especially in how the characters behave. It is just too simplistic.

(Spoiler Alert! Skip to next paragraph to avoid spoiler.) For example, when Tom tells adults how he has fallen into the past and returned to the present, they do not question him, but accept it outright. I’m sorry, but if a child tells me that he has time-traveled to another century, I’m going to be a bit more skeptical than that. I’m going to ask a lot of questions. It will take time for me to believe it. I know it is fiction, but even fiction needs to have a grain of reality in order to be believable. I just can’t suspend my disbelief that much. Moreover, the author alludes to the existence of Shee-ogs, Irish goblins, but never resolves this plot line (Tom sees a green goblin man every time he passes through the time traveling grave.)

Despite these drawbacks, The Grave is entertaining and might be a good book for an eight- to twelve-year-old boy who is studying the Irish Potato Famine. All of the good historical fiction stories about the Irish Potato Famine that I have read have girl protagonists (such as Nory Ryan’s Song and Greener Grass – see review on this site), so this is a nice change. There is very little romance (a kiss from a young crush) and violence is primarily limited to fistfights and billy clubs. Of course, the book describes some gruesome details related to starvation and illness, but I did not find it to be excessive.

 Unfortunately, the ending is terribly cliché and wraps things up so neatly as to be completely unbelievable. (Spoiler Alert! Skip to next paragraph to avoid spoiler.) The reader learns in the beginning that Tom was abandoned as a baby in a department store. At the end, Tom and the reader discover Tom’s real parents are actually his football coach and his wife. Instead of having them give a believable explanation for abandoning their child (unmarried, too young to handle a child, depressed, poor, etc.), they tell him that he was abducted by the babysitter when he was an infant and then the babysitter later abandons him. What?!? Moreover, if this were the case, wouldn’t the football coach and his wife be searching everywhere for their baby and check out a child abandoned a few months later? It’s just too far-fetched ending in an already far-fetched story. The ending ruins the rest of the book.
I give The Grave three stars (out of five) for the historical accuracy, promising premise, and unique perspective from a male protagonist. If you need a book about the Irish Potato Famine for a young boy, it might fit the bill.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this review is to guide parents into selecting appropriate, significant, high-quality literature for their teens and tweens. I have no connection with the author or publisher of this book. I am a home educator of two children, 12 and 15, with a Master of Art degree in American Literature and a keen interest in young adult fiction and nonfiction.

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