Thirteen-year-old Irish-born Thomas Sullivan runs away from home to join the English army during World War I.
He wants to escape a life of grinding poverty in the coal mines of Dover and is intent on finding his dearly loved older brother, who signed up to fight but has been reported missing in action. Thomas fails to enlist due to his youth but is illegally recruited through the machinations of George, a Cockney street urchin. On the troop train bound for Ypres and the Western Front, they join abused runaway Charlie and stuck-up Eton scholar Frederick. The boys discover that their actual role is not to fight the Germans but to be sappers, whose job is to dig tunnels under the trenches, where they plant explosives to blow up the German lines and ultimately turn the course of the war. The narrative seamlessly blends historical fact with the intense personal experiences of the four boys—all white—as they learn to cope with the horrors of trench warfare. Each brings a special skill to the mix; Thomas’ mining experience, Charlie’s artistic skills, Frederick’s writing ability, and George’s all-round confidence and determination. The design includes a few black pages with white text, describing Thomas’ brother James’ traumatic experiences.
A captivating tale of down-to-earth heroism and a personal exposé of life in the trenches from the perspective of likable, engaging characters. (Historical fiction. 10-14)