Ross Welford has already received critical acclaim for his debut Time Travelling with a Hamster, which was shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award, and for his second book What Not to do If You Turn Invisible; but The 1,000 Year Old Boy is something really special. The story of a boy and his mother who, thanks to an alchemical potion, are ageless, though not immortal, it’s a skilfully constructed adventure story, full of excitement and humour, and it leaves readers with lots to think about too.
Alve, or Alfie to use his 21st century name, has been eleven for centuries, ever since he used the magic livperler and stopped the ageing process. He should have waited until he was older, but children aren’t generally patient. Since then he’s lived as quietly as possible, he and his mother (and cat Biffa, also accidentally given eternal life) watching the centuries go by. He accumulates vast knowledge, without ever going to school, and meets some interesting people, Charles Dickens for example. Two things happen that make him decide to undo the magic: he loses his mother, and he makes a real friend.
To restart his body clock, Alfie must find the last surviving livperler hidden by his mother hundreds of years ago. It’s not easy – of course – especially when social services get involved (it’s one of the many clever and satisfying aspects of the book that the intervention of modern life, mobile phones and digital data included, far from limiting opportunities for adventure actually increase them). And someone else is after Alfie too, a man whose story is closely interwoven with his own. In all of this, Alfie has his new friends Roxy and Aidan – particularly Aidan – there to help. The story is told in alternate chapters by Alfie and Aidan, their voices providing a wonderful contrast, and each one leaves us eager to read the next.
A sense not just of history but of time permeates the book: Alfie’s yearning to grow up, to have proper birthdays, friends that grow up with him, a family of his own, drive the plot. And there’s the revelation of the one thing that he understands more than anyone else on earth: without death, life is just existence. It’s wonderful stuff, yet for all the wealth and depth of ideas, the plot never slows and this is a hugely enjoyable page-turner.