Welcome to another Read-it-if review! Today’s book will be a treat for those who enjoy a bit of David Almond-style magical realism mixed with myth and legend, or indeed for anyone who likes to know that someone is looking after the postal system properly. Why I Went Back by James Clammer is a no-romance (hooray!), no-nonsense romp that masterfully blends ancient legend with modern first world problems (ie: not getting your mail on time). Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
Aidan needs his bike to deliver all the mail his postman dad’s been hoarding since his mum was sectioned. But his bike’s just been stolen.
In the early morning, Aidan chases after the thieves, hellbent on getting it back. When he reaches the abandoned factory where they’ve stashed his bike, he has moments to grab it and escape. But he finds more than just stolen goods. There’s a mysterious prisoner chained to the floor.
This is the story of why Aidan goes back.
Recalling Alan Garner and Susan Cooper, Why I Went Back is a dark tale of magic, myth and undelivered mail.
Read it if:
*you’ve ever had to cover for someone on the job when you are woefully unqualified (and unmotivated) to do so
*you’ve ever attempted to assist someone in something you thought would be a straightforward and simple task, only to find that it actually ends up taking over your life
*you’ve ever discovered an ancient, legendary being in an unexpected place and wondered what to do with him/her/it
* your mail could be delivered by a horde of unsightly and malodorous gnome-centaur crossbreeds for all you care, provided it gets to you in a timely and responsible fashion
Comparisons to David Almond’s Skellig will be obvious after reading this book, given the whole “troubled boy discovers ancient being in an abandoned warehouse” plotline, but there is plenty to enjoy about Why I Went Back on its own merits. For a start, while the plots might be similar in some ways, Clammer’s narrative is a lot edgier, featuring a young lad who isn’t afraid to get into a bit of trouble, provided it gets him where he needs to go. Aidan is an immediately likeable character, in that while he does indulge in some dodgy behaviour to achieve certain ends, he also has insight into why he’s doing what he’s doing and takes on the responsiblity to make changes in his own life.
The book swings a bit between totally mundane problems, such as Aidan coping with a mother in a psychiatric ward and a father who has checked out of his own life, and problems of a more mystical variety, such as what to do with the strange old man Aidan discovers being held prisoner in a warehouse by a group of local thugs. I found this to be quite a satisfying blend of story threads that kept the narrative moving and allowed Aidan’s story, and his friendship with Daniel, to be revealed in layers.
The ending neatly ties up the loose ends and provides a bit of hope for the future, using a juxtaposition of ancient magic and good old fashioned hard work. I’d recommend this one for readers of YA looking for an edgy, sometimes dark, sometimes funny story with a believable male protagonist and a touch of the old magic to shake things up.
Until next time,