James Heneghan (1930-) Biography
Personal, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
(B. J. Bond, a joint pseudonym)
Born 1930, in Liverpool, England; immigrated to Canada, 1957; naturalized Canadian citizen, 1963; Education: Simon Fraser University, B.A., 1971. Hobbies and other interests: Jogging, reading, fishing, music, movies, and the theater.
Writer and educator; formerly a policeman in Liverpool, England; Vancouver Police, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, fingerprint specialist for twelve years; Burnaby High School, Burnaby, British Columbia, English teacher for twenty years.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Writers Union of Canada, Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators, and Performers, Children's Writers and Illustrators of British Columbia.
Arthur Ellis Crime Writing Award, for Torn Away; Sheila A. Egoff British Columbia Children's Literature awards, for Flood, Wish Me Luck, and The Grave; Best Books for Young Adults citations, American Library Association, for Torn Away and The Grave; Governor General's Award nomination, for Wish Me Luck; Mr. Christie Silver Seal Award, best books citation, New York Library, 2000, and best sci-fi books designation, Voice of Youth Advocates, all for The Grave.
(With Bruce McBay) Puffin Rock, illustrated by Vesna Krstanovich, Book Society of Canada (Agincourt, Ontario, Canada), 1980.
(With Bruce McBay, under joint pseudonym B. J. Bond) Goodbye, Carleton High, Scholastic-TAB (New York, NY), 1983.
Promises to Come, Overlea House (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1988.
The Case of the Marmalade Cat, illustrated by Carol Wakefield, Scholastic Canada (Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada), 1991.
Blue, Scholastic Canada (Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada), 1991.
The Trail of the Chocolate Thief, Scholastic Canada (Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada), 1993.
Torn Away, Viking (New York, NY), 1994.
The Mystery of the Gold Ring, Scholastic Canada (Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada), 1995.
The Case of the Blue Raccoon, Scholastic Canada (Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada), 1996.
Wish Me Luck, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux (New York, NY), 1997.
The Grave, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux (New York, NY), 2000.
Flood, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux (New York, NY), 2002.
(With Bruce McBay) Waiting for Sarah, Orca Book Publishers (Custer, WA), 2003.
Hit Squad, Orca Book Publishers (Custer, WA), 2003.
Contributor to periodicals, including B. C. Runner.
A sound recording of Torn Away was produced by CNIB in 1994; The Grave was adapted as an audiobook, Recorded Books, 2002; Wish Me Luck was produced as a German-language audiobook, Horcompany, 2000.
An author who also taught high school and has worked as a police officer in his adopted home of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, James Heneghan is credited with bringing a fresh approach to the genre novel for young adults and primary graders. Addressing such literature as the mystery, the YA novel, the war story, and the science fiction adventure, he writes comic fiction and action-filled stories for younger readers and deeper, more thoughtful books for teenagers; several of his books are set in British Columbia, while others begin in his hometown of Liverpool, England. In his works for young adults, the author introduces more realistic, and difficult, problems—such as abandonment and feeling rage—than those resolved by characters in his works for younger readers. In addition, Heneghan's novels often feature episodes critics find are compelling in their ability to maintain fast-paced action and suspense without sacrificing subtleties of characterization or setting.
Heneghan is perhaps best known as the author of Torn Away, a young adult novel that has the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in contemporary Belfast as its point of reference. In this work, thirteen-year-old Declan is forced to immigrate to Canada to live with his Uncle Matthew and his family in British Columbia after his father, mother, and sister are killed by the Protestants in war-torn Northern Ireland. Once in British Columbia, Declan, who is intent on going back to Belfast to join the IRA and revenge his family, attempts to smuggle himself on to a plane bound for Scotland before he is brought back to his uncle. Declan gradually warms to his kind relatives and to the beauty of the landscape of British Columbia. After learning that his father was not a hero, but rather an informer who was attempting to protect his wife and unborn child, the boy realizes that violence is a dead end; at the end of the novel, Declan decides to remain in Canada.
Reviewers singled out the effectiveness of the author's portrayal of Declan's rage, and the slow evolution of his feelings toward his new family. "What will hold readers," noted Roger Sutton in a review of of Torn Away for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, "is the vivid drama of the scenes in Belfast and Declan's halting, grudging acceptance of Matthew's love .… [We] get a sobering, immediate picture of a country and civil war that would quickly make kids grow up fast." Booklist reviewer Hazel Rochman said, "Readers will feel for the desperate boy nearly destroyed by civil war. The best scenes evoke his haunting memories of guns and firebombs and contrast those nightmares with the rich silence of the wilderness and the kindness of community." Barbara Greenwood, writing in Quill and Quire, called Torn Away a "powerful story" and concluded, "Each character, while representing an idea Declan must ponder, is also fully realized and interesting. The author's skillful use of symbols … to reveal Declan's changing feelings gives depth to the fast-paced and engrossing action."
Heneghan returns to Irish history in The Grave. The story is based on the actual 1973 discovery of a mass grave in Liverpool during the construction of a new school building. In The Grave, a thirteen-year-old foster child named Tom falls into this mass grave and discovers that it has transported him to 1847 Ireland. In the small island town where Tom finds himself, he uses CPR to save the life of a boy named Tully Monaghan, who is almost drowned while fishing. The natives, unfamiliar with this modern medical technique, are split on whether Tom is an angel, the devil, or a faery, but Tully's siblings, Brendan and Hannah, become good friends with Tom immediately. Tom eventually travels back and forth between the present and the Monaghan's era three times, allowing him to experience the family's entire journey through the Irish Potato Famine. The Monaghans eventually abandon Ireland for Liverpool, where they hope to board a ship for America. However, while living in abject poverty there without adequate food or shelter, Ma and Brendan catch a fever and die, and Tom attends their burial in the mass grave he fell into at the beginning of the tale. Since meeting them, Tom has recognized in the Monaghans the family he has always wanted and never had; he eventually finds out that they are literally his family: Tully was his great-grandfather.
Some critics found The Grave's happy ending "a little too pat," as Lisa Prolman wrote in School Library Journal, but it "makes for a satisfying conclusion." Other critics, including Horn Book reviewer Lauren Adams, thought that "the strongest parts of the novel describe the desperate living conditions of the Monaghans and their fellow Irish immigrants." Rosie Kerin also praised this aspect of The Grave in the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, writing that Heneghan's "descriptions enable readers to really imagine what the characters wore, where they lived, and the sights and sounds of 19th-century Ireland—even the smells." Booklist reviewer Shelle Rosenfeld, on the other hand, primarily praised the character of Tom, calling him "a likable, three-dimensional character, whose dilemmas are compassionately and realistically revealed."
Blue is a young adult novel that Quill and Quire reviewer Jeffrey Canton described as "most certainly innovative" and which "adds a fantastic twist to the traditional boy and dog story." In this work, Ted, an unhappy boy who longs to escape from his home life, is befriended by a blue sheepdog who has crash-landed on earth from outer space and utilizes his telepathic powers to win the boy's affections. Along the way to the story's happy ending, Ted must deal with the death of a beloved pet, handle failure when he does not make the school basketball team, and come to terms with his mother's burgeoning relationship with the owner of their farm.
Heneghan returns to the Liverpool of his childhood again in Wish Me Luck, a young adult novel that revolves around the relationship of twelve-year-old Jamie Monaghan with the new kid in town, Tom Bleeker, the father of Tom in The Grave and a somewhat shady character who is Jamie's next-door neighbor. Based on the true story of the sinking of a passenger liner by a German U-boat during World War II, Wish Me Luck dramatizes the real-life transportation of British children to Canada when the country became the target of Axis bombs during the war. Although the ocean liner on which the boys are traveling is torpedoed, they are rescued at the end of the story. A reviewer in Publishers Weekly noted, "Heneghan pulls off a rare achievement: he creates historical fiction that does not depend on historical incidents—even so dramatic an incident as the WW II torpedoing of an ocean liner—for its tension, momentum or purpose." The reviewer concluded, "Because the characters seem so real, the reader shares their shock and horror and breathes in relief at their rescue. Eye-opening and utterly gripping."
Waiting for Sarah is a YA novel set in modern times. The book opens with a horrific car accident that kills tenth grader Mike Scott's mother, father, and his younger sister and also causes him to lose his legs. Mike misses an entire year of school while going through rehab, and would be happy to continue avoiding others. His aunt Norma, who takes him in after his parents are killed, convinces him to try to attend school for his senior year, but even surrounded by other students Mike remains withdrawn. He agrees to compile a feature for the yearbook celebrating the school's fiftieth anniversary because it will get him out of a boring history class, and this assignment brings him in contact with Sarah, an eighth grade student who volunteers to help with the project. With her constant cheer, Sarah finally manages to get close to Mike in a way that no one else can, but she turns out to be more than she seems. Solving Sarah's mystery finally forces Mike to confront his own issues and move on with his life.
The protagonist's "inner torment echoes familiar questions" about the unfairness of life, commented a Publishers Weekly contributor, "and his coming to terms with them is mature and thoughtful." "Mike is realistically angry and unlikeable," Frances Bradburn noted in Booklist, "but readers will easily connect with him."
With The Case of the Marmalade Cat and The Trail of the Chocolate Thief Heneghan creats two comic mysteries for readers in the early primary grades featuring Clarice O'Brien, a girl detective who some critics compare to the protagonist of Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy. Along with two of her pals, Sadie and Brick, Sadie sets up a detective agency in Vancouver to solve the small mysteries of their friends and acquaintances, such as missing cats and stolen toys. Writing in Canadian Materials about The Case of the Marmalade Cat, David H. Elias maintained, "For seven-to-ten year-olds, this book may provide a simple episodic kind of entertainment." The Trail of the Chocolate Thief includes a checklist of all the thefts from Sadie's notebook. Quill and Quire reviewer Ken Setterington predicted, "Young readers will enjoy trying to solve the case along with the detectives .… Once again, Heneghan has created a mystery for middle readers with a fast pace, realistic dialogue, and lots of laughs."
Heneghan once commented that before he turned to writing, "it was photography. I took many pictures of bridges. I don't know why except that they appealed to the eye and heart. Vancouver's Lions Gate Bridge, for example, I shot with a four-by-five Linhof on panchromatic film, using a rising front and red filter on a clear, cold day. The steel girders rise up from the icy waters of Burrard Inlet in silver arches, leaping like salmon into a black sky.
"Perhaps writing is another kind of bridge, a bridge between the writer and his audience, where the writer's perception and vision are used to catch those nuances of light and shade that are a portrait of the human heart."
As Heneghan once told Something about the Author, "Writing for teenagers started as a joint idea when a colleague and I saw a need for high-interest stories for our own English students who were reading at a low level and who needed motivation to read. Our early stories, unpublished, tried to include characters and settings and situations our students could recognize and identify with.
"I enjoy writing for children, but still regard myself as a beginner. One thing I have discovered is that children are tough critics—they know what they like, and only your best will do."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, February 15, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of Torn Away, p. 1072; June 1, 1997, Frances Bradburn, review of Wish Me Luck, p. 1703; October 15, 2000, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of The Grave, p. 434; ay 1, 2003, Brian Wilson, review of The Grave, p. 1609; September 15, 2003, Frances Bradburn, review of Waiting for Sarah, p. 231; January 1, 2004, review of The Grave, p. 784.
Book Report, November-December, 2002, Robyn L. Matthews, review of Flood, p. 47.
Books in Canada, February, 1980, review of Puffin Rock, p. 23.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, February, 1994, Roger Sutton, review of Torn Away, p. 189.
Canadian Children's Literature, number 17, 1980, p. 77; fall, 1994, p. 76; September, 1996, p. 65.
Children's Bookwatch, August, 2004, review of Waiting for Sarah, p. 2.
Emergency Librarian, March, 1992, review of Blue, p. 58; September, 1994, review of The Trail of the Chocolate Thief, p. 55.
Horn Book, September-October, 1997, Peter D. Sieruta, review of Wish Me Luck, p. 571; November, 2000, Lauren Adams, review of The Grave, p. 754; July-August, 2002, Peter D. Sieruta, review of Flood, p. 461.
In Review, January, 1980, p. 41.
Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, September, 2001, Rosie Kerin, review of The Grave, p. 84.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 1994, p. 557; February 1, 2002, review of Flood, p. 181.
Kliatt, September, 2002, Paula Rohrlick, review of The Grave, p. 19; March, 2003, Palmer Jean, review of The Grave, p. 61; January, 2004, Erin Lukens Darr, review of Torn Away, p. 17; March, 2004, Lynne Marie Pisano, review of Waiting for Jane, p. 27.
Publishers Weekly, March 7, 1994, review of Torn Away, p. 72; October 16, 2000, review of The Grave, p. 77; September 29, 2003, review of Waiting for Sarah, p. 66; October 13, 2003, review of Hit Squad, p. 81; May 5, 1997, review of Wish Me Luck, p. 211.
Quill and Quire, September, 1991, David H. Elias, review of The Case of the Marmalade Cat, p. 220; February, 1992, Jeffrey Canton, review of Blue, p. 34; October, 1993, Ken Setterington, review of The Trail of the Chocolate Thief, p. 41; April, 1994, Greenwood, Barbara, review of Torn Away, p. 39.
Resource Links, February, 1999, review of Wish Me Luck, pp. 24-25; February, 2001, review of Grave, p. 30; October, 2002, Connie Forst, review of Flood, p. 14; June, 2003, Margaret Mackey, review of Waiting for Sarah, p. 28; December, 2003, Lori Lavallee, review of Hit Squad, p. 38, Margaret Mackey, review of Torn Away, p. 38.
School Library Journal, November, 2000, Lisa Prolman, review of The Grave, p. 154; April, 2002, Beth L. Meister, review of Flood, p. 150; May, 2003, Francisca Goldsmith, review of The Grave, p. 79; October, 2003, Jeffrey Hastings, review of Waiting for Sarah, p. 171; January, 2004, Robert Gray, review of Hit Squad, p. 130.
Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators, and Performers Web site, http://www.canscaip.org/ (April 3, 2005), "James Heneghan."
James Heneghan Home Page, http://www.jamesheneghan.com (April 3, 2005).
Writers Union of Canada Web site, http://www.writersunion.ca/ (January 19, 2005), "James Heneghan."
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