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Wales Book of the Year shortlist review:Jac a’r Angel by Daf James

23 Jun 2024 6 minute read
Jac a’r Angel by Daf James is published by Y Lolfa

Jac a’r Angel by  Daf James has been shortlisted for the Bute Energy Children & Young People Award in this year’s Welsh language Wales Book of the Year Award.

Ant Evans

Having recently won the Tir na n-Og Welsh language prize (primary category) at the Meifod Urdd National Eisteddfod, it was clear that Jac a’r Angel (Jac and the Angel) by Daf James was going to be something special.

As the title suggests, our protagonist is Jac, who lives with his grandfather in a cold end terraced house in the Carmarthenshire village of Bethlehem, appropriately.

The reader learns that Jac and his grandfather haven’t had the easiest of years, to put it mildly. As she was struggling as a single parent (Jac’s father lives in Australia with his new partner) Jac and his mother move to Bethlehem, so that his grandfather can be an extra pair of hands.

Jac being a huge fan of Christmas and now living in a village called Bethlehem, was really looking forward to his first Christmas in his new home.

However, his mother tragically falls ill during the summer and dies on Christmas Day. Christmas this year then, as far as Jac’s grandfather is concerned, is cancelled.

Rebellious

After a less than pleasant day at school (on top of having lost his mother the previous year and worrying about his grandfather, Jac also has to deal with being bullied, which unfortunately for Jac, was far from a one off event) after getting home, Jac decides to be a bit rebellious.

This reviewer found himself thinking of the ways in which he’d have been rebellious at Jac’s age; bringing a box of Christmas decorations down from the attic and decorating my room wouldn’t have been at the top of the list.

However, with Jac having instantly felt better once his room had been decorated, this small act of rebellion (Jac had always done as he was told up to that point) seems to have been a success.

In addition to the decorations, there was also an advent calendar, with Jac’s mother’s initials on it, in the box. with an image which was almost alive in the scenes being portrayed.

The reader’s senses, as well as Jac’s, are engaged as James evokes, for example, the crackling of an open fire and the taste of sweet hot chocolate.

This is testament to the author’s talents when it comes to painting a picture for the reader of what’s unfolding, not just here, but throughout the story.

Illustrations by Bethan Mai provide an additional aid to visualising events within the story and the characters themselves.

Imagination

So vivid is the image on the advent calendar, that it’s almost as though Jac is part of, or even in the picture itself. The reader has learned before this point that Jac has an active imagination.

It soon becomes apparent however, that this isn’t a case of Jac having an overactive imagination.

Soon after he opens the first door, the inside of which has the image of an angel, the ground begins to shake, half the ceiling falls in and a bright light fills the room as the angel from the calendar hovers above him.

Wish comes true

After a rather amusing misunderstanding on Jac’s part (thinking the angel was about to tell him he was pregnant) and an equally humorous exchange when Jac asks if the angel has to be so loud (the reason given being that the angel has been practicing for months for the announcement competition at the Angel’s Eisteddfod and didn’t want to lose out just because Jac has sensitive ears) they get to the matter at hand; the angel is there to grant Jac a wish.

After explaining that bringing his mother back from the dead and making his grandfather feel better weren’t possible, following a 24 hour extension to give Jac time to think, he decides he wants to play the part of Mary in the school Christmas play.

Granting his wish, the angel warns Jac it won’t necessarily happen how he imagines.

There are plenty more examples of magic courtesy of the advent calendar as the days go by and Jac prepares for his big break on stage, such as Dilys the snow lady who isn’t melted by Jac’s warm heater and Cefin the camel, who apparently doesn’t need to do his business.

Disappearing magic

However, following an unfortunate event at school when Jac’s trying on the costume for the part of Mary, things soon begin to go awry.

First his grandfather goes missing, though is later found, with Jac’s aunt Carol thinking perhaps it’s time her father went to the local care home.

Then Dilys worryingly begins to melt and Cefin discovers the use of his bowels. Carol thinks her father is going senile when he notices the resulting mess in Jac’s room, even though Jac insists everything his grandfather sees is real.

Jac has a theory that the magic of Christmas is disappearing and that his grandfather holds the key to saving it.

The reader is very much rooting for Jac throughout the novel, from the bullying he’s subjected to, to his extraordinary efforts, and those of new found friends, to break his grandfather out of the Plas Y Bryn care home and save Christmas.

Despite the adversity Jac faces, hope is never far away. Magic, humour and hope in the face of adversity are key elements which this story wouldn’t be the same without.

Daf James skilfully weaves each of these and so much more through Jac a’r Angel. If an author manages to make this self confessed Grinch feel remotely Christmassy, in June no less, then they’ve managed to pull off nothing short of a Christmas miracle!

As the lovely story unfolds, there are plenty of miracles waiting for the reader.

Jac a’r Angel by Daf James is published by Y Lolfa and is available from all good bookshops.


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Gaynor
Gaynor
24 days ago

Bute Energy trying to whitewash their name. Happy to promote Welsh literature as well as destroying Welsh communities and the environment

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