By Author / Illustrator
Andersen Press Ltd
Paperback / softback
Ever since his dad died in a shock accident, thirteen-year-old Gabe's world has been turned upside-down and back to front. Literally: Gabe has discovered the ability to tell stories which take him into the past, or imagine an impossible version of the present or future that seems as real as real. Gabe has no clue what is going on. But the answers may lie with his mysterious uncle Jesse, an online game called Small Town Hero which seems to mirror Gabe's own life, a long-lost grandmother, and the very fabric of time and the universe.
An emotional roller coaster of a plot line with a very real protagonist who will hook you in and leave you reeling. A fantastic Young Adult story that deals with many issues surrounding young people - death, bullying, friendships, maturity.
Small Town Hero begins in the prologue with the funeral of the protagonist's father. Gabriel (main character and narrator) is observant and notices the strange ways his estranged uncle moves during the funeral. Gabe reveals he has a strange power only he believes he can do, by focusing hard and creating his own world and story, where he soon discovers the events can come true.
With the death of his father creating a, 'black hole inside me', Gabe tries to focus on getting on with his life, but things have changed - his mother has to work, he has to stay regularly with a friend who turns against him, and suddenly he feels very alone with no one to talk to. Through a series of events, Gabe is sent to his Uncle for the summer holidays where he soon discovers his uncle has the same 'power' and Gabe realises this power means he can go back and alter past events and he becomes obsessed with returning to the past and stopping his father from dying.
The interesting thing about this book is that is has a double plot line. Gabe, his power and his uncle's guidance, combined with a computer game - Small Town Hero - where Gabe has to negotiate his character through a series of a events. The computer game is linked to the events happening with Gabe which makes this story complex and interesting to read. There is some very scientific knowledge and ideas combined in the narrative such as black holes, alternative universes, quantum mechanics, time lapses, which make this book fascinating for young readers to be introduced to some very complex scientific theories.
One thing I loved about this book is that the protagonist is 13/14 years old (in Year 9) and as the narrator, he creates a plot that often feels so real, it actually had me checking if the game (Small Town Hero) is actually real; it sold the game to me, I wanted to play it.
I will definitely be recommending this to my students, particularly boys, as the author Patrick Neate has really captured the essence of what it is so be a teenage boy, both in the language Gabriel uses and also in his interests. With a combination of the life changing events he suffers, it is a great book for helping boys speak up and discuss their own emotional needs - boys need to talk too!
272 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by Joanna Hewish, teacher
Suggested Reading Age 11+