________________ CM . . . . Volume V Number 12 . . . . February 12, 1999

cover Wish Me Luck.

James Heneghan.
New York, NY: Bantam Doubleday Dell (Distributed in Canada by Doubleday Canada), 1997.
199 pp., pbk., $5.99.
ISBN: 0-440-22764-X.

Subject Headings:
City of Benares (Ship)-Juvenile fiction.
World War, 1939-1945-Great Britain-Juvenile fiction.
Shipwrecks-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 5 - 9 / Ages 10 - 14.
Review by Valerie Nielsen.

*** /4


To 13-year-old Jamie Monaghan and his friends at St. Oswald's School (Snozzy's) in Liverpool, "...the war was only a distant rumble...like a football match when the other side of the match forgets to turn up." Unable to depend on the Germans for excitement, the boys are ready to enjoy the first fight of the new term, an event which pits Jamie's new neighbour, a swaggering tough named Bleeker against Stinky Corcoran, the best fighter in the school. When Bleeker, despite inferior size and experience refuses to "lie down and die" after continuous walloping, he takes on something of a hero status to Jamie and his friends. It is not long, however, before fighting on the playground is forgotten in the excitement of bombing raids which send Jamie's family and neighbours into their back garden bomb shelter. After the Monaghan house is hit with an incendiary bomb, Jamie's parents decide it is time to send him away to safety. They book him a passage on the City of Benares, a passenger liner which will be part of a destroyer-escorted convoy sailing to Canada. Jamie is furious with his dad and mam for sending him away... "It would serve them right if they never saw any of us again. I hated them." With a hundred other young British evacuees, including his surly neighbour Tom Bleeker and Bleeker's whiny little sister Elsie, Jamie embarks on a historic voyage to safety.
Heneghan has based his work of fiction on the true story of the sinking of the City of Benares. In his "Author's Note" at the end of the novel, Heneghan tells readers that 77 children died after the ship was torpedoed, and that, almost certainly, more children would have been rescued had the rest of the convoy searched for survivors rather than making away from the scene as fast as they could.

      The author gives his reader a marvellous sense of time and place in Wish Me Luck. With young Jamie as narrator, the accent and expressions peculiar to the Irish immigrants living in the Old Swan district of Liverpool come to life in an unvarnished and often humorous way. Registered through Jamie's eyes, the horror on board the torpedoed ship as loaded lifeboats spill their passengers into the boiling sea and the City of Benares' slides to the bottom, is both terrifying and believable. In the tradition of high quality historical fiction, James Heneghan has woven themes of friendship, generational understanding, courage and unlikely heroism into a gripping adventure story. Unfamiliar words and expressions are almost always "translated" in Jamie's narrative, and, since the novel consists mainly of conversation, it will be easily understood, even by less skillful readers. Some of these expressions may readers strike as coarse; therefore, it would be wise for teachers to read the novel before deciding to whom it might be read or recommended.

      One unfortunate feature mars this edition of an excellent piece of fiction. Wish Me Luck's cover will definitely not inspire young readers to pick it up. The page-turning excitement of the story does not make it onto the cover picture which shows a chunk of the doomed liner dwarfing the backs of a few characters, all done in faded sepia-like tones. It is also not clear why the illustrator chose to depict a back view of Jamie looking up at the ship, rather than being on it, where the adventure takes place. Aside from this drawback, Wish Me Luck is a fine work of historical fiction, which, because of its fast pace and readability, will appeal to a wide range of ages.

Highly recommended.

Valerie Nielsen is a recently retired teacher-librarian who co-chairs the Manitoba Young Reader's Choice Award Committee.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364