Good Night Mr. Tom Summary

Michelle Magorian

Good Night Mr. Tom

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Good Night Mr. Tom Summary

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Good Night, Mr. Tom by Michelle Magorian recounts one abused boy’s life-changing relationship with a lonely, curmudgeonly, elderly man, whom he calls Mr. Tom. On the eve of WWII in September 1939, children were evacuated from England’s cities, particularly London, due to the waves of Nazi bombs that were soon to fall on the city during the London Blitz. Willie Beech is evacuated to a small village, Little Weirwold, in the English countryside, where the alien sights and sounds terrify him, at first. This coming of age novel expresses several themes, such as the damage of psychological and physical abuse, and the triumph of love over hate. Against the background of WWII, the sudden, unpredictable deaths also teach the characters to live and love in the moment.

Through the persistent, gentle caring of Mr. Tom, Willie learns to trust and love another human being. Tom Oakley, who understands why Willie arrived covered with bruises, without proper clothing, and terribly thin, comes to love Willie like a son. What Willie knew of life—beatings and daily hateful words—is transformed into a life full of kindness and affection, and the peace that comes with them.

Slowly, Willie begins to make friends at school, including his best friend, Zach. He learns that he is talented at drawing. He learns to trust that Mr. Tom and others will not hurt him. In turn, the reclusive Mr. Tom opens his heart again. After the deaths of his wife and baby son about 40 years ago from scarlet fever, he became the village recluse.

Called back to London by his mother, who has psychologically and physically abused Willie his whole life, Willie has no choice but to go, though he dreads it. Willie finds the situation with his mother is even worse than it was before—she has had a baby girl while Willie was away, though she is a single mother, and she called Willie back to take care of the baby. This young adult novel contains graphic scenes of the abuse Willie and his baby sister endure, due to the mental illness of their mother. Enraged by Willie’s tales of his life with Mr. Tom, she chains Willie, naked, inside a closet holding the baby and locks them in, with no food or water. She leaves. No one knows they are there.

Feeling that something has gone terribly wrong when the days pass and Mr. Tom does not hear from Willie, Mr. Tom gets on the train to London in search of him. Mr. Tom dreads the city, having never travelled outside the area containing his village, but his love for Willie encourages him to overcome his fears. He convinces a policeman to break down the locked door to Willie’s mother’s place. They find a horrible stench: Willie locked into the closet with his dead baby sister.

At the hospital, officials tell Mr. Tom that Willie may never recover from the trauma he’s endured, and that most likely he will be sent to a children’s mental home. Willie must be drugged every night to stop his screaming, which disturbs the other children.

Unable to bear Willie’s suffering, Mr. Tom kidnaps Willie from the hospital and returns to Little Weirwold. Willie suffers from horrible nightmares and guilt, believing that it is his fault that his baby sister died. The authorities trace Willie and arrive to tell him that his mother has killed herself. They offer him a place in a children’s home, but they come to understand that Mr. Tom is the best guardian for Willie. Mr. Tom adopts Willie.

Mr. Tom, Zach, and Willie enjoy a vacation by the sea. Soon thereafter, Zach receives notice that his father has been injured in a bomb raid, and he returns to London to see his father. While there, Zach is killed. Devastated by yet another loss, Willie has difficulty coming to terms with Zach’s death, until Zach’s local guardian, the village doctor, tells Willie the story of his own loss of his best friend as a child. The doctor also gives to Willie Zach’s bicycle. Through the sharing of their losses, Willie begins to heal. When he rides Zach’s bicycle, he feels that Zach is still with him, inside him. He can never lose the love he felt for Zach. Willie finds that love and friendship endure, even through death, and that growing up includes being able to cope with the difficulties inherent in life.