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by James Heneghan

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Thirteen-year-old Charley Callaghan is coping with some difficult changes. His family has recently moved to Vancouver from Ireland, and his mother has died of cancer. Now he is desperately trying to fit in - in a new school, a new city, a new country - while holding a part-time job and keeping an eye on his little sister, Annie. Charley's red hair and Irish accent


Thirteen-year-old Charley Callaghan is coping with some difficult changes. His family has recently moved to Vancouver from Ireland, and his mother has died of cancer. Now he is desperately trying to fit in - in a new school, a new city, a new country - while holding a part-time job and keeping an eye on his little sister, Annie. Charley's red hair and Irish accent at first make him a target of the class bullies, but he is tough enough - just - to keep them at bay.

So it is almost a relief to him when the bullies find a new target, Benny Mason. Charley keeps hoping that Benny will defend himself, but he fails to intervene when the bullying worsens. When Benny commits suicide, Charley is overcome with remorse and guilt. He visits Benny's single mom, Joanna, but instead of confessing, finds himself trying to make amends by doing chores, running errands and befriending Benny's little brother. Can Charley find atonement for failing to act? James Heneghan's trademark narrative drive, vivid characters and strong social message make this a striking study of loss and renewal.

Editorial Reviews

VOYA - Elisabeth Hegerat
Charley Callaghan is having a tough time. His family recently emigrated from Ireland to Vancouver, and then his mother died of cancer. He is the target for bullies in his grade eight classroom. He tells readers that this story is not his, but that of his classmate Benny Mason. When soft-spoken, pacifist Benny joins the class, the bullies find a new target. Charley avoids Benny, convinced that Benny should just stand up for himself. Then Benny commits suicide. It really is Charley's story, and the payback of the title is not revenge, but Charley's attempts to deal with his guilt and shame over Benny's death. Charley visits Benny's mother, intending to apologize for not sticking up for Charley. Instead he finds himself helping her around the house, bringing along his own little sister while he babysits Benny's young brother Rico. When Rico is in danger, Charlie must find the courage to act and ultimately come to terms with his guilt over Benny's death. The plethora of factors putting pressure on Charlie, realistic though they may be, are overwhelming. But although the story would be tighter with fewer issues raised, the characters' emotional reactions ring true. It is sadly all too plausible that Benny slips through the cracks of the school system. His despair is understandable as is Charlie's guilt. This timely and sensitive exploration of bullying and bystanders should find a welcome home in most junior high and public libraries.
KLIATT - Claire Rosser
Ultimately, this is a story about bullying and violence. The narrator, Charley, is a young Irish teenager, recently come to Canada with his family and trying to settle into a new school after the death of his mother. Charley's father is kindly but frequently absent because of his work, so Charley and his younger sister take care of themselves and are close to their aunt and uncle who help out. Charley is the object of bullying and he hates it but knows a bit about defending himself. He cringes when he sees the same bullies harass Benny Mason, a boy in his class. He is fearful that if he comes to Benny's side to defend him, or if he is identified as Benny's friend, he will be overwhelmed by the bullies' attacks. When the increasingly miserable Benny commits suicide, Charley can't help but feel guilty, knowing that he should not have shunned Benny; he believes that if he had been a friend, Benny would not have killed himself. This guilt draws him to Benny's home, where Benny's mother and younger brother live, stalked by a disturbing man. Charley and his younger sister feel good there, with Benny's mother somehow soothing their hunger for their own mother. Then, the stalker strikes. Heneghan is a wonderful storyteller, with Irish charm evident in the cadence of the narrative, filled with humor and drama. This would be a particularly successful choice for classes of younger adolescents who need to think carefully about bullying and its repercussions. Charley's dilemma, whether or not to protect Benny, will be understood by all readers. And the dramatic ending, the payback, is satisfying.
Children's Literature - Katie DeWald
Charley Callaghan has plenty of problems of his own. His family just has moved to Vancouver from Ireland, his only friend has moved to Ontario, he has to deal with bullies at school, and his mother has just passed away. Clearly Charley has his own problems, so it does not seem like such a bad idea to let Benny Mason deal with his own problems. When Benny is picked on by kids in the lunchroom, pushed down after school, or taunted in class Charley remains silent and tries to ignore Benny and his troubles. Even though Charley wishes that Benny would stick up for himself, he does not. Although Charley knows he should tell someone when he sees Benny pull the fire alarm at school, he does nothing. After Benny Mason jumps to his death off a Vancouver bridge, Charley is overcome with guilt for his inaction and seeks ways to pay penance for his lack of intervention. A heartfelt, painful story of the realities of life in junior high, the impact our daily decisions have on others, and what it means to live life in the shadow of grief. Heneghan delivers an excellent book to use as a starting point for discussions of morality, consequences, death, and how some kids seem to slip through the cracks. The smart narrative is warm, thought-provoking, and realistic, with the power to change people and their perceptions of others.
School Library Journal

Gr 7 Up
Charley Callaghan has just moved from Ireland to North Vancouver and is starting eighth grade. He's trying to "speak like a Canadian" to fit in at school; he's trying to cope with the death of his mother; he's trying to help care for his withdrawn younger sister; and he's bullied because of his accent. Charley takes readers into his world, telling the affecting story of how, in the midst of all this, he watches another new kid suffer even worse torment than he does because he is effeminate and possibly gay. When Benny takes his own life, Charley deals with his intense guilt about not defending him and attempts to make up for it, to "pay back," by helping the boy's agoraphobic mother. This is a startlingly poignant novel. Charley's compelling, straightforward voice rings true and builds trust in his audience by exposing his most wracking emotions. This is, ultimately, a story about guilt and honesty, about trying to help others when we need so much help ourselves. Readers will find a character or situation to identify with and will admire the means by which Charley achieves some peace of mind.
—Riva PollardCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
Two deaths hold dominance over this tale narrated by Charley Callaghan. Soon after his Irish family immigrates to Vancouver, his beloved ma dies after a long bout with cancer. While Charley and younger sister Annie try to cope with their loss, Charley finds himself disconnected. Two bullies harass him constantly until new (and effeminate) student Benny becomes their target. Charley sees their cruelty, but does not intervene, too absorbed in his own troubles and secretly relieved that he is no longer the victim. Then Benny commits suicide, leaving a note referring to his constant tormentors. Charley, wracked with guilt, tries to confess his cowardice to Benny's mom but cannot bring himself to follow through. Instead, he visits her each day, doing chores and providing company. Charley is ultimately able to rise to the occasion in a slightly improbable episode of family violence. The very Celtic inclusion of the ghost of Charley's ma appearing and giving him advice is perhaps unnecessary, and the frequent Irish slang may confuse American readers. While melodramatic, the topics of bullying, cowardice and peer pressure unfortunately remain all too relevant. (Fiction. 9-13)

Product Details

Groundwood Books Ltd
Publication date:
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
770L (what's this?)
File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

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Meet the Author

James Heneghan was raised in Ireland and in Liverpool, England, where he worked as a policeman. After coming to Canada, he was a police fingerprint specialist before becoming a teacher. He has won the Arthur Ellis Award for Juvenile Crime Fiction and is a three-time winner of the Sheila A. Egoff Book Prize for Children's Literature. He lives in North Vancouver, British Columbia.

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