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London Calling    by Edward Bloor order for
London Calling
by Edward Bloor
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

In London Calling, Edward Bloor, has created a haunting, extraordinary story. The title hails from words used by overseas telephone operators in the 1940s - when a call was answered, the receiver would hear the operator say, London Calling. The phrase also relates to a BBC radio broadcasting program of the same name. Bloor's story has a light time-travel theme, and the further you read, the more you experience being there, whether in the war torn streets of London with young Jimmy Harker, or in (John) Martin Conway's home in Bethel, New Jersey.

In the Prologue, 'John Martin Conway/United States Embassy/Grosvenor Square, London/January 2, 2019', speaks of his youth. He has just been informed of the death of World War II hero General Henry M. 'Hollerin' Hank' Lowery. Conway writes, 'Each life, in human history, begins when a person starts to walk down a path. Then we come to a crossroads that our parents tell us to walk down where we have two choices - remain on the one path or step off onto another. Sometimes our paths cross the paths of others at crucial points.' The story closes on Conway's Epilogue, written on the same date, rounding off his account of his experiences in the dream world, time travel, family changes, and most importantly being able to answer the question at the pearly gates, 'What did you do to help?'

In the body of the story, 7th grade narrator Martin experiences an awakening of mind, heart, and spirit, while healing from deep depression. Just before her death, Nana telephones Martin in the wee hours of a morning and asks, 'Have you heard from the boy yet? ... You must help him. He's lost.' Martin's grandfather Mehan was an attaché at the American Embassy in London, under Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy. Nana leaves Martin an antique radio, a Philco 20 Deluxe. Martin dreams as he sleeps in the study of the Mehan home during his stay for Nana's funeral. He sees Grandfather Mehan with hair disheveled, eyes weird and blazing, holding a letter opener, and hears Nana's voice, 'Don't worry about him Grandpa ... He's not after you Martin. He's after Jimmy.' Nana's Home Health Care nurse confirms that Nana did indeed talk to a presence, which she called Jimmy.

Martin and friends are on scholarship at All Souls Preparatory where his Mom toils for a pittance so that her son can have the best education. So did daughter Margaret, now a college graduate, whose current project with the Millemim Encyclopedia company is checking the accuracy of the history of General Henry M. Lowery. Preparations are underway to erect a statue honoring General Lowery in the school's Heroes Walk. Henry M. Lowery IV bullies Martin and his friends, fists are thrown, and a Carrara marble piece damaged. When Father Leonard comes on the scene, Lowery IV tells his twisted version. In the summer, Martin stays in his basement bedroom, instant messaging his 'short buddy list' - Pinak and Manetti - and pretending to work on the summer reading list. Martin sees his days as empty and pointless, napping often and walking through the summer heat like a sleepwalker.

Returning to New Jersey after Nana's funeral, Martin begins using the Philco 20 Deluxe as a night light, setting the dial between AM stations that provide a soothing static. Around three a.m., 'A boy - small, thin, dressed in mud-brown clothes - leaned out from behind the radio and whispered, 'Johnny, will you help me?'.' Martin finds himself back in time in a darkened living room, the radio atop a small table. Jimmy is sitting in a chair staring at him, during a blackout. Jimmy takes Johnny through the streets, pointing out the surface shelters, and Bessie, a barrage balloon to keep the 'Gerry's planes from coming in low'. As they approach the American Embassy to visit Jimmy's dad, out walks ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy with General Lowery and grandfather Martin Mehan.

Jimmy knows he needs Johnny's help, but tells him he's not sure in what way. On the night of the major Blitz, Johnny watches Jimmy enter a street shelter, yelling 'You can't go in there ... Don't be a bloody fool, Johnny! You can't get killed. You never could. This isn't your time ... Tell my Dad I'm sorry'. Martin is thrown by the blasts, and remembers being carried by strong arms. He awakens to find Mom and Margaret standing over him in the emergency room of Princeton Hospital NJ. With his father's help, Martin returns to London to follow through on research he had been doing on the Net. It is a time for father and son to strengthen their bond, as his father tells him, 'Remember ... lad, if you never remember anything else. We all touch each other's lives, for better or worse. So say the things that you have to say to people while you still have the chance.' It is then that he comes to understand what Jimmy Harker needed him to do.

This has been my first journey with Edward Bloor and it will not be my last. London Calling and Jimmy and Johnny Martin will reside within my mind's eye for always and a day. This is a book that will fill readers with sadness and joy, laughter and tears, a book to treasure.

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