Review Blog

Jul 23 2008

The H-Bomb Girl by Stephen Baxter

cover image

Allen and Unwin, 2008.
(Age 11+) When Laura moves to Liverpool with her mother, strange things happen. Her mother's boyfriend, Mort is part of the American forces in Britain, watching the television news avidly, telling Laura that she and her mother will be OK. But her father gives her a key, which she must keep hidden, and commit a series of codes to memory, to use only in the case of an emergency. Her new school friends are agog at the similarities between Laura and their teacher, Miss Wells, and the girl in the ticket box at the Cavern where the friends go to hear the new groups in Liverpool could be her twin.

It is 1962. In the background we hear the news broadcasts about the missiles getting closer to Cuba. Policemen talk at the school, telling the students not to worry, windows are whitewashed, and people talk about building shelters. But Laura has more day to day problems, as she and Bernadette search Miss Wells's locker, finding a small rectangular metal box which vibrates and sends messages. Eventually when the group is confined to hiding in a cellar before the bomb is dropped; Agatha reveals that she is Laura's daughter, come back from the future to take the key to make the first bombing raids in the coming war. But Miss Wells is also Laura, in a parallel time frame, needing the key to stop the war that eventuates.

The first half of the novel seems confusing as more and more intrigue is uncovered but details are given which make things ultimately clear. The story seems to be one thing and then another, each step opening up possibilities and directions, but as the story unfolds, it takes on the unexpected shape of a time travel story, but one so utterly different as to hold the reader's attention. Laura and her friends are utterly believable, their language and ideas all part of the youth culture of the early 1960's. It will be a shock to some of our students to read of time before mobile phones, or instant money, or contraception. This book is a stimulating look at a previous time, when events conspired to put the world on the brink of extinction. The diary entries describing what happened to Liverpool after an H-Bomb was dropped makes fascinating reading, and the parallels to today's society can be construed by the astute reader.

Time travel novels are few and far between and good time travel novels, a rarity. It's great to see one which will engender much discussion in the classroom, and could be used in a topic to do with war, or survival or time travel. Some students may like to further research the activities of the CND, or the author, H. G. Wells, as a result of reading this book.
Fran Knight

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