CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 17 . . . .April 13, 2007
Young Charley Callaghan, a recent Irish immigrant to North Vancouver, begins his narrative by claiming that "this story is not about me." In truth, Payback, by James Heneghan, is a refreshing exploration of the psychological trauma experienced by Charley as he deals with both his mother's death and a suicide at his school. This novel has all of the tenets of realistic fiction: it is harsh, critical, and unflinching. The one element of this genre that Payback does not include is didacticism, and so it excels in presenting the difficult issue of school bullying and suicide without a heavy dose of adult finger wagging. By focusing on the psychological progression of Charley, Heneghan creates a gritty and compelling story that reflects an often ignored phenomenon of youth culture in public schools.
When I first began reading Payback, I found the Irish accent of Charley a bit difficult to get into, but his charming character was quick to grow on me. His mother had cancer in Ireland and had recovered fully, but, soon after the family moved to Canada, the cancer came back and quickly took her life. Since Charley's dad works for BC Ferries and spends a few days each week away from home, Charley and his sister Annie stay with Aunt Maeve and their Crazy Uncle Rufus during this time. At school, Charley becomes a witness to the aggressive bullying of Benny Mason, another new student at the school. Charley remains silent, and, like the rest of the school and community, he becomes an 'accomplice' to Benny's tragic suicide. Heneghan very smoothly captures the thought process of Charley who often realizes he 'should go and help him,' but becomes too busy with his own life to actually do anything. His feelings of guilt and complicity are compounded by his inability to verbalize his "black secret" to his family, or the Mason family.
Brianne Grant is a student in the Master of Arts in Children's Literature at the University of British Columbia.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.