Title: Back to Blackbrick
Author: Sarah Moore Fitzgerald
Summary (from Goodreads)
Cosmo’s brother Brian died when he was ten years old. His mum hides her grief by working all the hours God sends and Cosmo lives with his grandparents. They’ve been carefree days as Granddad buys him a horse called John and teaches him all he knows about horses. But the good times have to come to an end and although he doesn’t want to admit it, Cosmo knows his Granddad is losing his mind. So on one of the rare occasions when Granddad seems to recognise him, Cosmo is bemused that he gives him a key to Blackbrick Abbey and urges him to go there. Cosmo shrugs it off, but gradually Blackbrick draws him in…
Cosmo arrives there, scared and lonely, and is dropped off at the crumbling gates of a huge house. As he goes in, the gates close, and when he turns to look, they’re rusty and padlocked as if they haven’t been opened in years. Cosmo finds himself face to face with his grandfather as a young man, and questions begin to form in his mind: can Cosmo change the course of his family’s future?
To call this a fantasy is not to describe it accurately. It has fantasy elements, but at it’s heart, this is a book about a boy trying to save the mind of his grandfather as he starts to lose it to Alzheimer’s. And it’s equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking.
It’s a testament to Moore Fitzgerald’s skill that she can pull off that balance. I defy anyone not to be tickled by Cosmo’s attempts to follow some bogus website’s instructions on how to keep his grandfather’s mind healthy, and not be secretly weeping at the same time.
The time travel thing ought to have stuck out like a sore thumb too, in the midst of all that very relatable, very real family tragedy. Somehow, though, it didn’t. And Cosmo’s mission to gain facts about his grandfather’s childhood so he can pass a test in the future becomes a Back to the Future style quest to save his own existence. Again, this could be completely comical, but though it did have its moments of intentional funniness, more often than not you’re struck by the desperate sadness of Cosmo’s situation. You really feel for him as a character all the way through.
I must admit, I did have the ending figured out a while before the narrative got there. But that’s probably just me. I read a LOT of books about time travel. My favourite films are Twelve Monkeys and The Terminator. My favourite Harry Potter is the third one. I’m something of a Time Travel fan girl. And it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book anyway.
A beautiful book about the fragility of life, the senselessness of death and illness, but also about friendship, the hope for the future, and not letting the tragedies of the past define you. It’s sensitive, yet unflinching in its portrayal of a family affected by a horrible disease, the child’s viewpoint both a buffer at times, but also cutting right to the heart of the problems and hurt. It reminded me very much of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, and I hope Sarah Moore Fitzgerald enjoys as much commercial and critical success.
In my opinion, she very much deserves it for this gem.