- Author: Joel Toombs
- Published: December 2014 by Joel Toombs Publishing
- Category: Young Adult, Historical
Against the cruel backdrop of scenes no man should have to face, The Running Boy picks out glimmers of what every young man must face, weaving masterful threads of hope and redemption between the carnage and brokenness of the First World War.
Many thanks to Joel for sending me a copy for review purposes.
Howie Lambert and his friends, Freddy and Polly, live in the coastal town of Whitby, Yorkshire, with the moors, cliffs and the ruins of St Hilda’s Abbey as their playground. Howie is a quiet boy who likes reading and writing poetry. He’s vulnerable and introspective, which is not helped by his father’s stern and disciplinarian attitude.
‘If granddad used the belt and father turned out this way then maybe belts should be kept for trousers’.
The first real change to Howie’s relatively carefree younger years comes with the threat of war and his brother joining the army. Howie is sixteen in 1914 when Whitby is attacked by German warships and Freddy’s house, along with others in the street, are destroyed. Freddy’s mother is caught in the blast. Freddy fuels his grief with anger against the Germans and determines to enlist in the army, talking Howie into joining with him. Polly, eager to escape her abusive uncle, grabs her chance to leave with the boys. The friends are separated on their way to France and Howie is alone on his journey into the unknown.
The story follows Howie’s journey to France and the unimaginable horrors he finds there. Terrified and longing for home he faces the ordeals of war along with the end of his boyhood. Witnessing the fighting and being ordered to do things no-one should ever have to face, much less a boy, Howie has to grow up quickly. His feelings and thoughts are dealt with sympathetically. The scenes on the battlefields and in the trenches are described in convincing detail, made all the worse because of their truth.
Pops had sat there in the smelly slurry of the trench floor for half an hour rocking gently with Chipper still in his arms before they could persuade him to let go. Then Howie had suddenly looked over and seemed to recognise where he was.
They were amazed as he crawled over on his hands and knees through the slime and lay next to them; where he rested his head on Chipper’s chest, as if checking for a heartbeat. He cried. For a long time he quietly wept – with Pops crying too.
Just when it’s all getting much too overwhelming and Howie is almost at breaking point, his life takes an unexpected turn as he is given an order regarding the cavalry horses which are treated as just more casualties of the war. As he struggles to obey his orders Howie is allowed a glimpse into another world which gives him hope for his future.
Very well written and researched and I like very much how Howie is portrayed. My only niggle was the tone of some of the dialogue which left me unconvinced. I felt it could have had more authenticity and this did pull me out of the story a little. That aside, it’s a really good book for the Young Adult genre, showcasing as it does, a boy’s struggles from adolescence into premature manhood under the direst of circumstances.
About the author
Joel Toombs, born in Kenya of missionary parents has degree in Architecture from Sheffield University. In 2014 he also graduated from Cliff College (University of Manchester) with an MA in Mission (Emerging Church & Christian Mentoring). In between these studies he spent 10 years in full time Christian youth work and helped set up and run several charities. He is now an Artist Development Manager for Resound Media in Sheffield, a record label for whom he mentors and promotes upcoming musicians and bands.
Joel has been a regular freelance contributor to ‘Youthwork’ Magazine since 2008 writing articles, resources, reviews and a Mentoring column. Other articles have been published in Outdoor Fitness, Christianity, Plexus and a number of blogs including 24- 7prayer.com. He has also had a booklet published by Grove Books Ltd. (to be released January 2015) ‘Mentoring and Young People.’
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