Thursday, March 14, 2013
Good Night, Mr. Tom by Michelle Magorian
Among the evacuees to Little Weinwold is William Beech, 8, left in the care of Tom Oakley, a widower and a rather crusty loner. William is much to small for his age, frightened of everything and covered in black and blue bruises. Inside he duffel, Tom find a belt with a large buckle and instructions to use it on William whenever he sees fit. Appalled by what he sees that first day, Mr. Tom, as he tells William to call him, begins to soften towards the boy, taking him out and buying him some appropriate clothing and boots, feeding him well and doctoring the bruises.
As William's body heals, he comes out of his frightened shell and even develops a fondness for Mr. Tom's dog Sammy. But William has a bed-wetting problem that continues despite everything. Soon William meets Zach, another evacuee, and they become best friends. And other kids begin to join in on their fun. And it turns out that William is quite a talented artist, receiving some art supplies from Mr. Tom for his ninth birthday. Things go well until school starts.
It turns out that William cannot read, that in London his teachers ignored him and the other students taunted him. When all his friends to into their proper class, William is put in with the younger kids who are just beginning school. Mr. Tom begins to teach him to read and by the end of the term, William has conquered not just reading but his bed-wetting problem as well.
Life for William, Mr. Tom and Sammy the dog has evolved into a comfortable, happy companionship and Mr. Tom has even begun to participate in village activities again, something he hasn't done in forty years after the death of his wife and new baby son, also named William. But one day a letter arrives from William's mother, asking for her son to come home for a visit.
And it is with very heavy hearts that Mr. Tom and William say good-bye at the train. William is laden with all kinds of lovely, friendly gifts for his mother as he leave and promises to write to Mr. Tom as soon as he can. When weeks go by and not letter arrives, Mr. Tom and Sammy take the train to London to find out if things are going well for William, arriving just at the Blitz begins.
And yes, he does find him - locked in a closet, tied up to a pipe in it and holding a baby who turns out to be his illegitimate sister. Traumatized and blaming himself for the baby's death, William is taken to a hospital. Mr. Tom keeps watch and makes himself useful when people injured by the bombing are brought in. After a few days, however, he is told that William is going to be transferred to a home where he will be given psychiatric treatment.
Not agreeing that this is the best thing for William, Mr. Tom resorts to something desperate. Will the two ever make it back to Little Weinwold or is this the end of things for Mr. Tom and William?
Good Night, Mr. Tom is Michelle Magorian's first novel. It was written in 1981 and hasn't lost any of its appeal nor does it have a dated feeling. It is probably her most well-known work, particularly since it has been made into a television movie (ITV in the UK, Masterpiece Theater in the US, and with John Thaw, a favorite) and a play.
I have read Good Night, Mr. Tom a few times and never get tired of it. The writing is elegant, and Magorian has great talent in fleshing out her characters so that they are believable and well-developed. And the same can be said for her settings, actually.
Magorian also has a way of presenting difficult issues without getting too graphic or going overboard. In this novel alone, there are issues of abuse, bullying, anti-Semitism, skewed religious beliefs, the death of children and suicide. These are dreadful things, and yet not presented in such a way that they will disturb young readers, but enough is said to make this book appeal to an adult reader as well. And in the end, it is a novel of healing, hope, love and trust, and these are the issues that predominate, even without a really pat ending.
If you haven't read Good Night, Mr. Tom, be warned - it is a tearjerker, but oh, so worth it. But there is much in the story that will make you chuckle, especially William's very outgoing friend Zack, whom I haven't mentioned much even though he is a good part of the book and who makes me smile just thinking about him.
This old favorite is worthy of a first read if you haven't already read it, or worthy of another read if you have read it before.
This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was purchased for my personal library