Thursday, February 19, 2015
Review: Goodnight Mr. Tom
HarperTeen, November 1986
About the Book
London is poised on the brink of World War II. Timid, scrawny Willie Beech—the abused child of a single mother—is evacuated to the English countryside. At first, he is terrified of everything, of the country sounds and sights, even of Mr. Tom, the gruff, kindly old man who has taken him in. But gradually Willie forgets the hate and despair of his past. He learns to love a world he never knew existed, a world of friendship and affection in which harsh words and daily beatings have no place.
Then a telegram comes. Willie must return to his mother in London. When weeks pass by with no word from Willie, Mr. Tom sets out for London to look for the young boy he has come to love as a son.
Read this book. At the very least, you should consider watching the movie adaptation. I doubt you regret meeting Willie Beech and Tom Oakley.
Goodnight, Mister Tom is set during the early months of World War II. For the most part, it is set in the English countryside. William (Willie) Beech is one of many children being evacuated to the country for safety reasons. Willie has been assigned to a widower, Tom Oakley. Willie isn’t quite sure what to think about his new home? Everything in the country seems to surprise him including Tom’s dog, Sammy. Tom isn’t quite sure what to think about Willie either. He’s a bit puzzled because Willie does act a bit off. It’s not just the fact that he’s never been out of the city. Willie doesn’t know how to read or write even though he’s almost nine. (He also wets the bed.)
Tom soon learns enough to get him good and angry. Willie arrives essentially with nothing but the clothes he has on. But his mom has included a belt with a note on how and when to use it on her son. Tom soon sees the evidence of abuse for himself.
It was oh-so-easy to care for the characters, especially Tom and Willie. As Willie spends time in the country, it is in many ways his first taste of safety and freedom. And love and kindness. And stability. And friendship. I loved seeing Tom with Willie. I loved his patience and firmness. I loved his kindness and encouragement. I loved seeing Tom work with Willie on his writing and reading. I loved seeing them read together every day. I loved seeing Tom encourage Willie with his drawing.
Willie also finds friends his own age. His best, best friend is a Jewish boy named Zach. Plenty of time is spent with Willie and Zach and their other friends and/or classmates.
The novel is both intense and ultimately satisfying. It it intense for multiple reasons. I expected it to be intense because of the war. And it was. I wasn’t necessarily expecting it to be intense for psychological reasons. The novel is ultimately satisfying, but, don’t expect sweet scene after sweet scene. The sweetness is found in friendship and hope, but, there are some bitter shocks as well.
I loved Goodnight, Mr. Tom. I loved the characters and am so glad I read it.