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Book Review: The 1000 Year Old Boy

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The 1000 Year Old Boy

Author: Ross Welford.

Published: 11 January 2018.

Read and reviewed: March 2018 (read twice!).

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Synopsis

From the back of the book:

There are stories about people who want to live forever. This is not one of those stories. This is a story about someone who wants to stop...

Alfie Monk is like any other nearly teenage boy – except he's 1,000 years old and can remember the last Viking invasion of England. Obviously no one believes him. So when everything Alfie knows and loves is destroyed in a fire, and the modern world comes crashing in, Alfie embarks on a mission to find friendship, acceptance, and a different way to live... which means finding a way to make sure he will eventually die.

Alfie Monk, originally Alve Einarsson, is a boy born over a thousand years ago (AD 1003, specifically) who got into something he shouldn't have when he was 11. It stopped him aging. His mum, who had already been through the ridiculously rare required process, wasn't too happy about that – he was supposed to wait until he was an adult. But worse, something went wrong when he did it, resulting in a ludicrous waste and a consequence that could be hilarious or hair-tearingly frustrating depending on your point of view.

But Alfie and his mother made do, and ever since have lived a quiet life, trying to draw as little attention to themselves as possible, and never telling anyone their secret. But the whole time Alfie knows that any of the rare friends he might make will age normally and sooner or later will move on with their lives. He's mostly a happy lad, but he knows that even with a thousand years behind him he's missing out on life.

And then Alfie loses everything in a horrible accident and knows he has to start aging again. How desperate will his actions have to get to make it happen?

Review

Alfie is a boy who has kept a low profile for over a thousand years, but he's now been pushed out into the world that he and his mother spent so long trying to avoid. He's also desperate to find a way to start aging again, and when he thinks the situation demands it, he's not afraid to take drastic action. But children are children because their brains are wired a certain way, and having an extra thousand years of experience doesn't change that. Alfie means well, and his experience means he can handle many difficult situations quite well, but he and his friends still make bad decisions, sometimes leading to laugh out loud hilarity because of the ridiculous situations that arise.

However, the book is also about death. The pathos is kept reasonably light, considering what Alfie goes through, and his grieving is not dwelled on. The heart wrenching scenes could have been a lot more confronting, and it might be interesting to have an adult (more poignant and longer!) version, but this is a children's book and Ross Welford has set the right level, not laying it on too heavily.

There are certain conveniences that have been taken with some characters and plot devices, such as a neighbour turning out to be a noted expert in a particular relevant field. But this is a children's book – that particular example keeps the structure simpler, meaning fewer people need to be introduced and remembered.

The narrative is told in first person, ably handled by Alfie and one of the two children he befriends after the accident. They occasionally use bullet lists and numbered lists, a nice way to cover a number of thoughts they have about something that happens. Chapters are generally short – as little as seven lines in one case – and plentiful; the last chapter is one hundred and five. Ross Welford often ends a chapter with a cliffhanger or forward reference. This and the short chapters give a sense of rapid progress of the story, and really encourages the reader to keep reading.

Be prepared to binge read this book.

Many readers will have wondered what it would be like to live for ever; this story turns that idea on its head. The concept of a boy wanting to start aging again is excellent, making for a story which is both thought provoking and heart warming, and also poignant. We know how much Alfie has lost, and have some idea of how much more he has to lose in order to get his main desire. Alfie several times points out that he wants to be able to savour every moment of life, to have to care about what he does with his time because he has a limited supply of it. It's not a bad attitude to have.

The story is a brilliant read based on a fresh central idea. It incorporates both modern technology and humour smoothly (not necessarily together) and manages to capture and convey the personalities of and relationships between its protagonists, who are two boys with radically different backgrounds, and a girl whose technological and social savvy often (but not always) leaves the boys in her wake. I'm left wanting more, and I look forward to reading other books by Ross Welford.

I'm planning on reading The 1000 Year Old Boy again soon (update – I did); it features sea caves, after all.


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