Morgan Wilberforce is a boy in trouble in the coming-of-age novel that bears his name, Wilberforce. His story is set in England in the 1920s at a time when the effects of the war are still fresh on everyone’s mind. The reader is thrown into the action along with Morgan as he wakes up from a suicidal tackle during a game of rugby. From there one journeys with him as he navigates life at St. Stephen’s Academy, complicated relationships, and devastating situations made so by Morgan’s involvement. Pay attention to the dark shadow of a clue delivered at the beginning of the novel as well as those tossed throughout the following pages. H. S. Cross handled these details in such a way that the reader never feels as if he/she is constantly trying to catch up.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve read several novels about all-boy schools in England, but I wasn’t the least bit surprised when the seamy underside of life at such a school included what Morgan referred to as ‘mucking about.’ The details were only implied, but the subject almost put me off from finishing the book. I’m glad I stayed with it because the situation plays into the larger issue of what Morgan is truly dealing with.
The last one-third of the novel slowed to a pace that, in the hands of a less skilled writer, could have tanked the whole book. Then Cross broke the rule of introducing a character late in the story (one of several rules she broke brilliantly, so I still complain about the way writing is being taught!), and she added the unexpected layer of—what shall I call it?—religion. And yet, while the Bishop (said late character) represents Anglo-Catholicism, there is nothing religious about his approach to helping ‘sort out’ Morgan Wilberforce. Cross didn’t make the story about religion but rather delivered a heavy dose of compassion, so when Morgan finally experiences a breakthrough, it is genuine. It is also surprisingly swift, occurs at the brink of Morgan’s sanity and the edge of the novel’s conclusion, and is satisfyingly realistic.
One will never see this novel in the inspirational section of any library or bookstore. I’m not sure it should be by virtue of the fact that it doesn’t conform to the type of books usually shelved there. What I loved about Wilberforce is that it didn’t shy away from the harsh realities of life, didn’t glorify them for shock appeal either, but it included an element that undeniably dealt with redemption. I must admit, I didn’t see it coming. For this reason, I’m looking forward to reading more by H. S. Cross.