Ben’s Challenge – reviews
A big thank you to all those readers who have written a review of Ben’s Challenge.
The reviews are posted with the oldest at the bottom and the newest at the top.
Victoria Norton, Australia:
‘Ben’s Challenge’ is a coming of age story of a 13 year old boy who wants to find out about his father’s mysterious death. It is set in a country town in Australia in the 1950′s. I loved it and felt as if Visman was writing of my own childhood with references to household products, cars and clothing of that era. Visman writes with clarity and her characters are very well depicted.The novel is classified as Young People’s reading but as an adult I enjoyed it very much.
Valencia-Emma Campbell, aged 13, Australia:
Ben’s Challenge by L.M Visman is a book I couldn’t put down. I read it in one day and hoped it wouldn’t end. The book was a present from my grandma for Christmas and as soon as I clutched it, I opened it and got lost in what was the best book I had ever read. I felt Ben’s mix of fear and determination.
Ben is a very curious and adventurous 13 year old. With everything he did and with the people he met it always led him to another clue to his father’s death and who trashed his bike. I really liked the way the author shaped the story to make you Feel his feelings – his anger, his grief and his loss. Seeing things from his perspective is what I loved most about this book. Every new character that was introduced and Ben’s reaction to them led me to a new suspicion.
Another thing that was explained loud and clear was the meaning of friendship. The encouraging ways our friends lead us to being the best we can be and achieve our goals. These are the people that stick by us forever. For example when Joe and Ben went camping and Ben hurt himself, Joe was there to help. I felt a surge of excitement in my chest with every page turn. All that Ben wanted was for the case to be resolved and to help out his mum and siblings.
Ben’s Challenge isn’t a book that is key to any age. It is one that all would enjoy and cherish. The book was well written with extreme thought put into it. I am really looking forward to reading the author’s future works.
Linda Brooks, Australia:
This book is about so much more than a boy’s challenge. It’s about persistence, courage and a son’s devotion to his lost father, his grieving mother and siblings. The book’s real beauty is in the characters and the setting – a time when responsibility mattered to children and youth. But this isn’t a bland read, it has drama, light and humor. The author has captured early Australian life with a connectedness that is authentic and engaging. It may not be the first book reached for on the bookshelves by today’s teens. More’s the pity – it should be. It deals with racism, bullying and real life issues where Ben becomes the hero the family needs. Having a view on his ‘growing up’ is a joy.
Jenny Mounford, Australia reviewing for The Compulsive Reader:
When I first learned this title was self-published my immediate thought was, Oh gawd, what have I done? But rather than the amateurish drivel I dreaded, this is a well-crafted and surprisingly well-written story of one boy’s quest for understanding and justice.
Set in 1958 Australia, Ben’s Challenge is at its heart an historical coming-of-age story with a fair dose of mystery and intrigue thrown in. The story begins with news of thirteen-year-old Ben Kellerman’s father’s death in a hit and run. It’s an accident that remains unsolved until the end of the book and is the catalyst for Ben’s transition from childhood. As far as beginnings go, this is a good one. It grabs the reader with an event that every child—indeed, everyone—can relate to. The story then drifts away from this dramatic beginning while Visman paints a picture of 1950s life and introduces various characters: Ben’s friends, his nemesis, town bully, Knobbly Clark and others.
While the glimpses of everyday 1950s life are interesting much of the first fifty pages or so is merely filler. For example: readers are treated to a lengthy tour of the local shop, what it sells, who shops there etc. Those who enjoy touring days gone by will no doubt see no problem with this. However, as a result much of the tension created by various problems in Ben’s life is diluted. Rather than being a heart racing jog, the plot becomes at times a meandering stroll—even after the stakes are raised. Given the generally short attention span of the intended audience, this might prove problematic for some.
Apart from the mystery of who the hit and run driver responsible for Ben’s dad’s death is, there is the smaller mystery of who caused the destruction of Ben’s bike. … Only when Ben and mate Joe stumble on a sports car submerged in the river near where the hit and run occurred, does the story begin to pick up pace. It seems certain to Ben when the car is dragged out of the water and his father’s glasses are recovered, that this is indeed the vehicle responsible for the accident. Ben vows to solve the crime, which, for the past year the police have failed to do. And with dogged determination he does just that.
Despite my concern that both narrative and dialogue is often overly wordy (the story would have to be in the vicinity of 60,000-70,000 words), it is essentially an enjoyable and heart-felt read. Visman has done well to replicate the language and mindset of the time. Her characters are for the most part three-dimensional and believable. I particularly like the relationship between Ben and Joe. Both boys are victims of bullying and discrimination due to their immigrant parents, yet each possesses a solid moral code and respect for others that, especially given their hardships, is to be admired.
It must be said that there is some language in this book that will be seen as offensive by some—not to mention a cringe-worthy scene where a teacher brutally beats Ben. Aside from the swearing, this scene and others like it raise pertinent issues regarding discrimination and bullying, which, unfortunately, are as relevant today as they were five decades ago.
One issue that I feel could and perhaps should have been explored in more detail is Ben’s grief. Through first-person narration we learn that naturally he is devastated by the loss of his father, but I didn’t see this reflected in Ben’s day to day life. As touched on earlier, it seems that for the first half of the story Ben was more bothered by his bike being run over than by his father’s accident. If Visman had painted a fuller picture of the boy’s grief, the shadow it cast over his life and how it shaped his decisions, I believe the story would have been much stronger. Also, the added emotional input would have carried the plot far better than the mystery of who left the bike on the road.
Despite, and perhaps because of all I’ve written above, I urge young readers to buy Ben’s Challenge. Ben’s relationships and eventual uncovering of the perpetrators of not one, but two crimes makes this title well worth investing time in.
About the reviewer: Jenny Mounfield is the author of three novels and several short stories for young people. She has reviewed kids’ and YA fiction since 2006, her reviews appearing both online and in print. She lives in south-east Queensland with her husband and three grown children.
Mavis Moog, England: 23.12.2011:
I hereby declare Linda Visman’s novel, Ben’s Challenge an all-round winner! Absolutely immaculate plotting and excellent characterisation of Ben and Geoff Clarke particularly, although Joe and Mr. Frazer deserve special mentions too. The background of 1958 small town Australia enthralled me, and I imagined this as an independant Australian movie, as I read it.
I loved how Ben shows us how to be gentle and thorough in our dealings with other people. His reasonable and restrained treatment of his tormentors, reminded me of Cinderella. I never could understand why she didn’t punish her ugly sisters. This story finally made it clear to me. There is some good in almost everyone, and a reasonable person owes it to himself to search out that goodness. Great job, Linda. I hope this book sells well and encourages you to write another one.
Alfred Booth, France: 14.12.2011:
I just finished reading the e-book version of Ben’s Challenge. I enjoyed it thoroughly. It was a very easy read and your characters were all likable and believable and I grew very fond of them after only a few chapters. Your dialogue is great and the plot twists and subplots were all well thought out also.
My only very small criticism is that I would have liked a bit more description — even more precise physical descriptions of the characters and of their surroundings. Quite frankly I think that Ben and Joe could become the heroes of a new series of mystery or murder books
Congratulations for an excellent book.
Jan Mitchell, Australia: author of Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor: The life of Colin Kerby O.A.M.
Ben’s Challenge is a full length novel suitable for boys from ten to fourteen. Set in a post war 1950’s country town, the main character, Ben Kellerman, is searching for the person who killed his father. The police have stopped investigating and Ben is determined to find the truth about his dad’s death. With his Polish immigrant friend, Joe, and his faithful dog, Scooter, Ben and Joe experience many highs and lows, until the mystery is solved. In the process, both boys take huge steps in growing up.
Not only is this exciting reading for pre-teen boys, it raises many questions about social issues which still confront kids today, such as prejudice against refugees and mateship. Ben is a likeable and adventurous boy, with many more freedoms and responsibilities than most children today.
Marian Grant, Australia
I want at the outset to declare two things. I am a 50s baby and I know the author. This provides me with a bit of a challenge. I grew up on diet of meat and three veg, respect for the Queen, a quiet uncomfortable awe for the name ‘Robert Menzies’, church and Sunday school, 10 shillings in a card from grandma at birthdays, the rote learning of the names of the rivers of northern New South Wales, an uncomfortable struggle with the notion that girls couldn’t behave like boys but a freedom to run and play with friends without adult supervision. You behaved yourself because mum would invariably find out and then you’d be in for it. Like many before me I’m starting to feel that the past, even with its dark stories of abuse and betrayal, is tending to look a bit more simple and authentic than the present.
I’ve known Linda Visman since the early 80s and though it’s been a friendship marked by distance and other lives, it is still a friendship built on affection and respect. Usually, in the selfish consumption of fiction, the author per se is not considered. It’s plot, character and good descriptive dialogue that keep the interest. To not like a book when you have no affinity with the author is neither here nor there. When you do know them and they have written about a time that is etched into an affectionate part of memory, the simple process of reading becomes complicated.
To be honest, I was afraid I wouldn’t like Ben’s Challenge. I was prepared to be disappointed by the writing, prepared for the possibility of poor dialogue, unconvincing characters, forced plot. It was in fact a good read and within two chapters I could let go of my doubts, relax and trust Linda Visman’s handle on the craft of good uncomplicated writing, and simply fall into the story: its characters, its descriptive nature and of course the many things that consume the mind, body and summer days of Ben Kellerman.
Bens Challenge is a number of things: a good mystery story simply but effectively told, a journey into the language and mores of an Australia that is fast disappearing, a relevant and current examination of the emotions of children who having faced the loss of a parent now experience the uncomfortable realisation that mum or dad, the memory of whom is an emotional touchstone, can and probably will be replaced.
There were a few elements of the writing that caused a slight hesitation. In the initial stages I wasn’t sure as to whether the book was too heavily centred on the language and memory vignettes of the times- we all too well knew of teachers, usually men if you went to public school, nuns if you went to catholic school, who caned too hard and too often but the ‘mystery aspect’ of the story soon became the focus of the story and Linda Visman builds it convincingly. For me it provided a wonderful excuse to take to the couch and just keep reading one wintry wet afternoon.
The resolution of the mystery surrounding the bike and the tone of his brother’s confession was a bit stylistically unsatisfactory and the story also ended a tad abruptly. Ben had been challenged and had undergone a journey in which he had faced physical and emotional duress. He emerges at the end of the novel a stronger and more perceptive boy as a result and for me the closing of the book would have been enhanced with a more reflective focus. But, as I have said, these are slight aspects of what is essentially an excellent book for children and for a ‘50s baby’ to read and enjoy.
I have lent the book to an inquisitive 8 year old, who gets jokes and loves i-pads and digital technology. He also loves reading. His dad, also a child of the 50s, is reading it with him at night. It will be interesting to see how Liam engages with Ben and his story and how his dad responds to a setting which is very much a reflection of his own childhood.
Carol Rose, Australia:
This is a well-crafted story that remembers the pace and values of ordinary life in 1950’s rural Australia.
It’s a good read, much of the pleasure is in being taken back to a world that I recognise. It’s a book for adults who were children in the 1940s and 1950s, rather than the kids of the fast-paced aggressive computer worlds of Carmageddon and Grand Auto Theft, of paved city streets, skateboards, tiled chlorinated swimming pools, and instant “communication”.
It’s a good reminder of how our values were forged. For example, the notion of paying your way comes out of a slower life, and a more austere, yet more egalitarian society, where even if we could pay for modest necessities on a weekly basis at the grocery store, we had to save for something we wanted. If you received credit it was likely to come out of compassion, from someone who knew you, and the circumstances of your family.
Our values came from a world where you could go overnight camping (if you were a boy!) with a jumper, a piece of canvas for groundsheet, a small sack of food, a box of matches – not the sort of “lifestyle” that the Contemporary Camping Shop would have you adopt.
It’s a book that explores the growing moral sensibility of a young person, intent on uncovering the truth about his father’s death by hit-and-run driver. It’s about loyalty and truthfulness between friends who come from quite different places.
This world is one in which children were children, but capable of taking on adult responsibility within the household; a world in which the polarity between boys and girls appeared later in life; a world in which bullies could change and soften; a world in which an older man could provide friendly guidance, support, and touch to a young boy, in which it was possible to imagine mutual trust and respect between generations.
How refreshing a comment on the new rigidities, rapidly changing codes, and shallow betrayals of contemporary society! The 1950’s weren’t “the good old days” (there were bullies, injustice, crooks, poverty, snobbery, some speedsters…atom bomb tests, persecution of aboriginal people and “communists” and those who wanted to escape suffocating family values…) but mostly they moved at a human pace, and this pace invited reflectiveness of a sensitive, perceptive young person. The speed at which many people move and “communicate” in 2011 leaves less room for circumspection or thoughtfulness.
This is a story that resonates with truth, and I thank L.M. Visman for giving me the opportunity to review my life, its formative influences, as lived in country Australia … in the 1950s.