Sunday, January 2, 2022

The Blitz Bus by Glen Blackwell

The Blitz Bus by Glen Blackwell
Zoetrope Books, 2021, 218 pages
NetGalley E-ARC 

When his teacher assigns her class to write a fictional diary entry of a WWII evacuee, Jack, 12, just can't think of anything to write. Somehow, the war seems so long ago and he just can't relate. And now, he's going to be late meeting his best friend, Emmie Langford after school. Being a good friend, Emmie has been waiting at their bus stop when Jack finally shows up.

Everything seems normal until they reached their stop and notice a new blue storefront with a mannequin wearing a long coat and a gas mask in the window. Suddenly, there is a flash of light and it begins to rain heavily, so they head to the nearby Tube station for shelter, along with everyone else.

Everything at the Tube station feels like it's out of time, causing Emmie to think they are in the midst of a film set in 1940. But gradually she and Jack realize they have landed in the midst of a WWII air raid, instead, and that somehow they have traveled back in time. With no money, no food, and no friends, Jack and Emmie begin to try to figure out how they can return to their own time. Along the way, they become friends with Jan, a Polish boy who arrived in England a few years earlier on the Kindertransport. The three discover an old Anderson shelter behind a bombed and abandoned house as Jan helps them navigate this unfamiliar London. When they discover what appears someone trying to build a makeshift radio, they are convinced the mysterious boy/man they have noticed is a German spy. 

The German spy turns out to be Stan, who also arrived in London on the Kindertransport, but unlike Jan, whose foster family is quite kind, Stan's treats him terribly. As they become friends with Jan and Stan, can Jack and Emmie trust them with their secret and perhaps get some ideas of how they can return to the own time? Or will they be stranded in 1940 forever?

The Blitz Bus is an interesting time travel novel that points out how as things recede into history, they don't carry the same level of interest or impact that they once had. Jack may live in East London, which had been heavily bombed and damaged during the war, but he's interested in video games and football, not history. I thought that Blackwell portrayed what London in the Blitz was like quite well, layering it with the different experiences of the two Kindertransport kids, their loneliness and homesickness, emotions Jack comes to appreciate firsthand. 

The novel also points out how people were so suspicious of foreigners during the war that they often suspected them of being spies, just as Jack, Emmie, and Jan thought that about Stan. 

Interestingly, the Tube station that Emmie and Jack shelter in was the Bethnal Green Station which was destroyed in 1943, killing 173 people. Blackwell includes more about it in his back matter, that also includes information on the Kindertransport, and instructions for making the kind of radio out things found, similar to the radio Stan builds to listen to new about Poland. 

I have to admit that I was hoping that once they returned to their own time, Jack and Emmie would try to find out what happened to Jan and Stan, whether they were living, and if they were, did they remember their two time traveling friends? 

Readers looking for a time travel adventure, as well as those who enjoy historical fiction set in WWII will no doubt enjoy reading about Jack and Emmie's exploits in this imaginative novel.

This book was an eARC gratefully received from NetGalley

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