A CHANCE CHILD by Jill Paten Walsh


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His abusive mother called him creep and so that's the name he goes by. We meet him in a sort of dump, from which he takes off along the canal in an abandoned boat. His brother Chris, who has kept Creep alive by sneaking leftovers to his closet prison, searches frantically when he finds him missing. But Creep, as finally becomes clear to Chris and to readers, has somehow slipped back into the 19th century--and, accompanied by two ill-treated runaways from the earlier period, into the cruel, crippling world of child labor. Walsh draws on contemporary reformist reports about maimed and whip-driven children for her descriptions of the very young trio's bouts of employment; meanwhile Chris, at the library, seeks his brother in those same old documents--and finds him, in one Nathaniel Creep's own account of a long, harsh, but happily married life. The book is slow to start, detailing Creep's route along the canal for a considerable way before his situation becomes clear; but once into its quiet, British flow, you'll find those sudden turning points--when Chris comes up against the 150-year,Id letters spelling CREEP carved into a bridge; when Creep, after a semi-ghostlike sojourn in the 19th-century past, suddenly breaks through in full flesh, consumed with hunger--that much more involving. Moving, too, without a trace of sentimentality, are Creep's relationships with his child companions. Combining bleakest reality with a highly imaginative construct, A Chance Child emerges as an extraordinarily well-knit and atmospheric time fantasy.

Pub Date: Nov. 30th, 1978
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux