This week’s longer read is Charlie and Me: 421 Miles From Home by Mark Lowery, published by Picadilly Press. Cover illustration by David Dean.
What it’s about:
Thirteen-year-old Martin and his younger brother Charlie are on a very special journey – they’re travelling 421 miles from Preston to the very tip of Cornwall. By train, bus and taxi, they are determined to get there in the end; and they’re hoping to catch a glimpse of the dolphin that regularly visits the harbour. But is that the only reason they are going?
It’s a journey that’s full of challenges and surprises. Martin adores his brother Charlie but he’s not like ordinary kids. He’s one in a million. He was born far too early, and ought to have died. And cheeky, irrepressible, utterly unique Charlie is always keeping Martin on his toes. Martin is doing his best to be a good big brother, but it’s hard when there’s something so huge coming once they get to Cornwall …
When my review copy of this book arrived, I was immediately drawn to the story from the beautiful cover illustration alone. It gave the impression of a tale of friendship, happy adventures and carefree summer days running on the beach. The story does have elements of this excitement in it but there are also contrasting moments of sadness and tension because this journey Charlie and Martin are embarking upon is fraught with the possibility of being discovered and sent back home without accomplishing their mission. You see, they’ve left home without permission, and there are going to be some very worried and angry parents desperate to get them back.
Most of the novel follows the long journey the boys undertake and the various things they must do to arrive at their destination. They make friends and potential enemies along the way. Martin looks out for his brother but the reader senses that this is without its own drawbacks. As the trip progresses, we learn how tired and on edge Martin is when caring for Charlie and protecting the two of them from trouble. We also have a glimpse into his life through the poems he writes to express his emotions. Martin is a brave boy but also one experiencing emotional turmoil and it seems as if his parents are too preoccupied with their own troubles to realise how much he is struggling.
Mark Lowery’s writing is amusing and fast-paced, fitting the genre of adventure excellently. It is not difficult to empathise with his young narrator, and to cheer him on. However, there is always a trickling sense of unease, alerting the reader to the fact that there is more going on that meets the eye.
It is no wonder why Charlie and Me has been nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2019. Mark captures Martin’s emotions accurately and skilfully, and I found myself as desperate for him to achieve his goal as he is. Be prepared for some sadness, as well as joy, in this remarkable tale.