BOOK REVIEW | Time Travelling with a Hamster by Ross Welford (3.5 stars)

hamsterVerdict: Cute and smart with just the right amount of sad mixed in. Many shades of fun. 

My dad died. Twice. But only the second time was my fault.

When Al Chaudhury receives a letter from his dead dad on his twelfth birthday, he doesn’t really know what to expect. He tells his mum it was just about the usual, ‘growing up, guy stuff’ that fathers tell their sons when they reach a certain age, but the truth is much weirder.

Al’s dad didn’t want to die. Fortunately, he built a time-machine to change what happened. All Al needs to do is…

The book is a sharp update on the man-out-of-time story, with an amazing protagonist and a full set of fleshed-out and appealing secondary characters. Welford’s characterisation skills are spot on, and his ability to make the reader both feel for and identify with Albert is excellent.

(Sidenote: I became ridiculously excited when I discovered a paragraph declaring Albert and Albert’s mum have Syndactyly. This is a condition I have and, I kid you not, this is literally the first time I have ever read about it in fiction. It caused me great (perhaps disproportionate) pleasure to do so.)

The subject of loss is dealt with very well in this book, too. One line about how Al dealt with his father’s death caught my eye in this respect: Everyone kept saying how brave I was being, but I wasn’t. I just didn’t feel like crying and by the time I did, it was too late. Again, this is a feeling I remember from when my grandparents died (when I was around Albert’s age). I think it says a lot that Welford captured it so well.

On the whole, Time Travelling with a Hamster is a fantastic book and a credit to its genre. The subject matter, the characters and the narrative are all carefully crafted. Plot twists are well-executed and the second half of the book is paced so effectively, it’s difficult to put the book down.

There were only two things I didn’t like about this book, which unfortunately knocked it down from 4 stars to 3.5. The first quarter of the book is a bit slow, which although understandable because there’s a certain amount of ‘setting up’ to do, is to the novel’s detriment, especially considering how well-paced the rest of the novel is. The other, somewhat related thing, is the explanation of space-dimensional travel (time-travel) in the first half. Again, it’s the contrast with the second half is what makes it stick out – the second half was dealt with far better, I thought, and so I was left thinking that the first half of the book could have been revamped a bit to reflect Welford’s improved grasp on exposition.

But that’s if I’m being very harsh. After all, it’s not that easy to explain time-travel in a way that makes sense. Doctor Who still hasn’t managed it (which was a reference I loved from the young Mister Chaudhury). So, gold stars for effort and execution, Mr. Welford. I loved the book and I’d read it again. I’ll certainly be reading more of your work.

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