>The Time Traveller’s Assistant by Ian O’Neill

>Ian O’Neill gave me a free (signed!) copy of this book in return for this review.  You can read more about him and The Time Traveller’s Assistant on his website.

inside page of book, handwritten note reads:
For Emma, “Always follow your heart towards your destiny”
31st August 2010 Ian O’Neill

One of my fellow Oxfordshire NaNoWriMo-ers posted on Twitter about reading this book.  One of the things she specifically said was she was interested to know what I thought of it. Because the main character has CP.  I loved the idea of a fantasy book with a main character with CP so I e-mailed Ian and asked if I could review it and he said yes which made me happy.

Without giving too much away, Jimmy First (brilliant name!) is 14 and has CP.  He can walk, but has problems with one of his arms and if he tries to run, he falls over.  He is bullied because of it and the girl he fancies doesn’t want to know because of it.  But he also has some really great and supportive friends.  He has a part time job in a clock repair shop and it turns out that his boss is a time traveller.  Another time traveller tells Jimmy that in the future CP will be easily cureable (an outpatient procedure, even) and takes him there for the cure.  However all is not as it seems.

This book is aimed at 9 – 12 year olds.  I’m 28 and I did like it.  My mum has also read the back and now wants to read it too (and she would not want me saying how old she is!).  I found it to be a very quick read and in some ways easy.

However I do have some trepidation in recommending this book because some of the language used is offensive and some readers could find it very hurtful.  The bullies call Jimmy “minger” repeatedly which is a bit of a harsh word but doesn’t really bother me too much.  I could see some parents might not be happy with their kids using it though and I would hate to be called it!  In the first three pages of the book there are three uses of the R word, two by the main bully and one by Jimmy himself who is depressed and begins to think it must be true.  There are no further uses of the R word after that.  Jimmy’s mum also calls him “handicapped” a few times which he hates (I believe this is meant to show that she doesn’t understand Jimmy or his disability and is very much not a PC person although this is not immediately obvious from the book).

I discussed this language with Ian via e-mail.  He said the following (I hope he doesn’t mind me including this here!)

“I’m very uncomfortable with the ‘r’ word, and I’m also uneasy about using the word ‘minger’. I thought long and hard about using both words but decided to use them as I wanted to show how nasty bullies can be. I hope that my writing doesn’t glorify the use of these words, in fact, I hope it does just the opposite. Just about everyone who has read the book has hated the Nathan character, but the unfortunate reality is that they are out there. I wanted to show just what Jimmy had to put up with, but more importantly to show how strong he is.”

(and as a note from me: if anyone wants information about the R word www.r-word.org is a great site.  Dave Hingsburger has also written a blog post The People Who Are about it which is incredibly powerful)

He also tells me that some of his test readers found it hard to read but could read it and another couldn’t get past the first chapter where this is. Personally, I did read the book but at that point I actually threw it across the room and thought seriously about whether I would read the rest.

I thought that Jimmy was a very realistic 14 year old boy in many ways and also that a lot of his CP experiences (whilst very different to mine as I use a chair) were similar to things I experienced.

After the first chapter, the book does get a lot better and more positive.  The lack of hateful language from that point goes a long way towards that but Jimmy grows as a character and that is the main cause for a lot of the positivity.  By the end of the book Jimmy (and as a result the reader) sees that having CP isn’t necessarily a bad thing and that he can achieve stuff.  A point of view which I’ve reached now but I’m not sure I could have done at 14!

I am wondering what will happen to Jimmy in the next book and I definitely like the ideas it includes.  But on the whole because I am wary of recommending a book with the R word in I have to say it’s one to maybe read with caution although I did enjoy the read.  I think perhaps this could be a good book to read with kids who are learning about disabled people and about hateful language.  Because the hurt some of the terms cause Jimmy is very very obvious.  And if you can overcome the challenging first chapter it is on the whole a story which is interesting.

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