Book review

An Angel for May by Melvin Burgess (1992)

This is an interesting time travel story because it focuses not so much on going back in order to change the past as returning to change the present because you understand the past.

Tam Sams is in a bit of an emotional soup because his parents have recently separated. This isn't relevant to the story except that when characters in books become emotionally charged fantastic things happen like falling through wormholes in space. In this case Tam, hiding temporarily from the world in the fireplace of a derelict farmhouse, is led by a dog right through the fireplace back and out into the living farmyard. There he meets May, a strangely retarded child, with whom he strikes up an unlikely but genuine friendship. They have a rowdy game riding Spot the pig round the yard. 

The farm is worked alone by Sam Nutter, a steady, unflappable type of chap who seems to have adopted May. He supposes Tam to be an evacuee for this is wartime England, and having seen how well Tam and May play together offers Tam refuge at the farm. Tam finds that refuge is exactly what he needs because the town is full of hostile and threatening people. Tam realizes with shock that he is lost, in a different world.

Now, Tam does, of course, manage to return to his own time but only with the help of Winnie the dog and Rosie, a filthy 'bag lady' from his own time who seems to pass freely between the boundaries.

The real test of this book is how Melvin Burgess deals with the issues connected with time travel. First, there is the question of how Tam got there. He was apparently led by Winnie the dog and Rosie the bag lady. But how could Rosie recognize him in the present as an old friend and lead him back in time to meet May, because if he had not gone back in time in the first place to meet May, Rosie would not have been able to recognize him. See?

Second, there is the rule that you can't go  back to change the past. That's obvious because you would inevitably change the future and you might end up by not being born yourself, or something. Tam wants to return to the farm to warn his friends about the fire, but struggles with the undeniable evidence of a layer of ashes just under the topsoil. There was a fire.

So the past remains the past, but as a result of his time travelling, Tam changes the present and the future, thereby fulfilling his promise to Sam Nutter to do what he can for May. Tam is, indeed, an angel for May. Excellent stuff!!

What can I read next?

If you really enjoy time travel books, you might like to look at this absorbing trilogy by William Mayne:

Or this rather haunting story by Michael Morpurgo:

David Almond writes writes beautiful stories which start off in reality and end up in total fantasy, and the transition is so smooth you can't see the join:

You might also like this one by Alison Prince:

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