This review was contributed by Ben G
Published in: 1995
Age Range: Pre Teens
Setting: London and surrounding countryside.
- Johnnie: The 13 year old protagonist who is on the run and rescues the lost Shirley, a girl of about 3 who he subsequently protects and cares for.
- Biddy: A kind and caring gypsy girl whom Johnnie is attracted to.
- Bren is Johnie's simple cousin who is married to the violent and aggressive Tommy Price who, like Johnnie, is on the run.
Johnnie is staying with his grandparents in the East End as his father is at war and is on the run from the authorities after being accused of a theft he did not commit. He is forced to flee London along with his cousin Bren and her husband Tommy Price, who is also escaping, presumably for a crime he did commit. In the process he comes across the tiny and terrified Shirley who has been separated from her parents as a result of a German air raid. Johnie realises that he is no longer looking after number one and takes on the responsibility of a foster father for Shirley. At times this means shielding her from Price as well as escaping with her through the countryside from Price and the gypsies, who they were staying with, in the hope of returning her safely to London. In this process Johnie still has to cope with the normal problems of daily life. He finds himself attracted to the gentle and caring Biddy and he fears for his father's safety because he has had no word from the front.
The love and compassion that Johnnie shows the defenceless Shirley is truly heart-warming, especially when one considers Johnie's own adverse situation. He has to tolerate the isolation of being without his father as well as the brutality of the loathsome Tommy Price. On top of this Johnie is also on the run for a crime that he did not commit.
The language used is at times vulgar, but most certainly in keeping with the time and situation.
At one point Johnnie steals a comic book in order to pacify Shirley as she will walk no further and the author neither condones nor condemns this. Johnie finds himself attracted to Biddy, but their love is very innocent and not really dwelled upon. However, any negative aspects are very much outweighed by the strong love that Johnnie shows to Shirley, he really goes above and beyond. At the same time, Shirley brings the human out of Johnie's 'hard as nails' exterior. I would very much recommend this book, it is well worth a read.
“ 'Evacuation, eh?' Dukesey pushed back to the door of the bus, grunted for a laugh as he went. 'Makes sense of being Romany, don't it?' Which were the last clear words anyone was going to hear. Suddenly the kid started screaming and kicking and fighting to get to the door, shouting for her mum and her dad. And the only answer Bren and Pricey had was his hand over her mouth and her having a hard try to smack the kid into shutting up. But Johnie wasn't having that, no more than he was last night. He got himself between them and the girl again, and he held her tight, he cuddled her, and talked the biggest load of rubbish in her ears- this side and that she twisted and squirmed like a creature who didn't know the meaning of the words give in.”
Saturday 16th July 2005