Saturday, December 1

Blitzed – Robert Swindells

Eleven-year-old George’s life is dead boring – there’s nothing fun to do in Witchfield, except creeping, where you and your mates sneak through people’s backyard, fast as you can, and for some reason boring adults get upset. If you don’t want your tomatoes trampled, don’t plant them where they were squashed last time a trio of boys crept at speed through your yard, right? And buy them at Sainsbury’s anyway, like a normal person.
The only thing that George really finds interesting is World War Two – the Home Front and doodlebugs and air raids and U-boats, George knows it all. When his class start studying the War George gets a chance to shine – finally, something he knows about, something interesting. They even have an excursion to Eden Camp, an old prison camp that’s been turned into a war museum. George went a couple of weeks earlier, but he’s thrilled to go again. His favourite of the 29 themed huts is number five, which replicated a bombed out home. Last time he didn’t get a chance to check it out up close, but this time he scrambles on to the wreckage like he’s rescuing the person crushed under the rabble wuth only a hand sticking out. Even as he hears his teacher yell, George feels a kind of lurch, and everything changes. It’s dark, and cold, and the hand is real.
“I know what’s happened to me, that’s the worst part. You read ‘em, and if you haven’t you’ve seen them on TV. I’m talking about time-slip stories, where some kid goes through a certain door… [and] lands somewhere in the past … He’s never shown the way he’d really be: paralysed with shock, not because there’s a dinosaur or a bunch of cut-throats, but because his mum and dad aren’t born yet.”
George has somehow landed in London in 1940, and he’s terrified and cold. Come the morning he’s also hungry, with no money that he can use and no resources. Until he happens on a bombed out hotel and watches in amazement as, one after the other, four children crawl out from under a table like clown out of a Mini. Like him they’ve found their way there, to the protection of Ma who, at fourteen, earns some money and somehow manages to keep them all fed, clothed, and as safe as it’s possible to be in the middle of a war.
I know Swindells better as the author of novels for adolescents - like Brother in the Land – but this book for tweens has all the hallmarks of his other fiction. The protagonist is likeable, believable and layered and, thrust into a nightmarish world, emerges the stronger for it. George certainly very quickly realises that reading about an experience is wholly different from living it, and this point is made both explicitly by George (who reflects during an air raid how, far from being exciting, the experience is initially frightening and then excruciatingly dull), and implicitly but subtly throughout the text.
I think Blitzed would be particularly well suited to reluctant male readers, but I found it engaging and I’m far from that demographic! There’s a happier finale than usual, no doubt because of the targeted age group, and the neat coincidence at the end was telegraphed but nonetheless satisfying. - Alex

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