As you begin this sensitive and poignant novel for middle school readers (Grade 4 – 7) several questions begin to emerge – Why is Dad working all the time? Why is mom staying in bed until the afternoon, or not getting up at all?
Thirteen year old Martin does not have the answers but he knows that something has happened to his family and he wants to make it right again for his younger brother, ten year old, Charlie. Charlie was a premature baby who remains a small boy with a number of eccentricities. He is impetuous, has no understanding of danger, is smart, cheeky and has asthma. By turns annoying, funny and endearing, Charlie is also frustrating; but, the family, particularly Martin, champion his uniqueness. Lowry is adept at developing their close relationship in heart-warming detail. Martin describes Charlie as: “My absolute best friend in the whole entire world.”
Things were normal and happy on a family holiday, a year ago, to the south coast of England where they saw a dolphin that fascinated Charlie; now Martin wants to take Charlie back to that happier time. Without consulting his parents, he plans a trip to St. Bernards, 421 miles from home. Along the way, Martin is faced with the challenges of train travel, running short of money, being on the run from the police, and losing Charlie when they change trains. When Charlie is lost, Martin is desperate and accepts help from some unlikely sources in his effort to locate Charlie and eventually reach the destination. The climax, in the final chapter, answers the nagging questions, poses some new ones, brings the family together in an amazing way, and has a strong emotional impact.
It is through Martin’s voice, and his poetry, that the reader shares the journey. The three primary characters are strong and well-developed through both actions and dialogue. The theme of fierce brotherly love is obvious, while the theme of a family dealing with grief and loss are cleverly disguised in this non-stop-crisis adventure story that will keep readers enthralled.