Book review

The Grave by James Heneghan (2000)

It's a time slip thing. Could you really travel back in time in order to save the life of your own great grandfather?

'But what if you had never saved me and I had died there on the strand, drowned, the life gone out of me?'
'But then Tom would never be born!' said Hannah.
'That's right,' said Tully to his sister. 'And if Tom was never born, then I would never be saved so he might be born!' He scratched his head, intrigued with the puzzle he'd set himself. 'It's a grand idea, but it'd have the best thinkers in the world scratching their heads. And I don't believe it. Not a bit of it, even though we're as alike as a pair of crows. I couldn't possibly be your ancient grandfather.'

Well, don't tell me that time travel isn't possible either. I know that. But what if ...

If anyone really needs to meet his great grandfather, it's Tom Mullen. He is thirteen and three-quarters, and a bit of a loner. That's because his mother abandoned him when he was a baby. He doesn't know his proper name, or date of birth. Can you imagine how lonely you would feel, not knowing who you really are? Tom lives in a succession of ghastly foster homes, unanchored and neglected.

So it is a bewildering experience when he feels a tug, an emotional call, to an ancient mass grave which has been unearthed next door to his school in Liverpool. What would you make of it? Tom gets up in the middle of the night to go and have a good look at the grave in peace and quiet. And that is where this story starts. He falls into the depths of the mass grave, spins through time, and comes out in rural Ireland in the middle of the great potato famine of 1847, and the troubles of the Monaghan family. Never has he felt such a strong bond of belonging before ...

This is a very satisfying story. The Monaghans are evicted from the land by their English absentee landlord, and join the thousands of Irish peasants fleeing famine-struck Ireland to Liverpool, where they hope to board a ship to America. But the Monaghans are simple, God-fearing folk and Tom can see that they are unlikely to survive, unless he shows them how to wheedle and steal, and live by their wits. It's OK. It's what Tom does all the time back in twentieth century Liverpool, in care.

Tom helps the Monaghans. But they help him. They give him a sense of identity that fits like a glove. That, of all things, is something he can take back with him to his own time ...

Read it. You'll love it!

What can I read next?

Well, if it's time travel that interests you, perhaps you might enjoy the Earthfasts trilogy by William Mayne:

Or this neat time travel story by Melvin Burgess:

If you are really interested in Tom's predicament, as a neglected child in local authority care, perhaps you should look at this riveting book by Malachy Doyle:

Or, along the same lines, this brilliant book by David Klass, one of the best ever!:

Michael Morpurgo has written a story about an Irish family who escape to America, and the adventures they have there:

  • Twist of Gold

You might be interested to see the article I have written on time travel, in the ideas section:

Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:

The Grave features in these lists: