• Published by Groundwood Books in Canada, April, 2007.

capitol_subpage2Selected as one of the 2008 Noteworthy Books for Children – Ages 14 and Up
by Capital Choices (Washington, DC)

Nominated for:

  • 2008 Best Books for Young Adults by the American Library Association
  • 2009 Ontario Library Association Forest of Reading readers’ choice Red Maple award

This is a startlingly poignant novel. Charley’s compelling, straightforward voice rings true and builds trust in his audience by exposing his most wracking emotions.” Riva Pollard, The Windsor School Library, Boston

“Payback’s content offers excellent opportunities for classroom discussions about bullying, with a central question being, ‘Who failed Benny Mason?'” The Manitoba Middle Years Association Journal

“I give Payback five scary-truth stars.”
Melissa, Age 15, in KIdsWWrite


Thirteen-year-old Charley Callaghan is coping with some difficult changes. His family has recently moved to Vancouver from Ireland, and his mother has died of cancer. Now he is desperately trying to fit in — in a new school, a new city, a new country — while holding a part-time job and keeping an eye on his little sister, Annie. Charley’s red hair and Irish accent at first make him a target of the class bullies, but he is tough enough — just — to keep them at bay. So it is almost a relief to him when the bullies find a new target, Benny Mason. Charley keeps hoping that Benny will defend himself, but he fails to intervene when the bullying worsens. When Benny commits suicide, Charley is overcome with remorse and guilt. He visits Benny’s single mom, Joanna, but instead of confessing, finds himself trying to make amends by doing chores, running errands and befriending Benny’s little brother. Can Charley find atonement for failing to act? James Heneghan’s trademark narrative drive, vivid characters and strong social message make this a striking study of loss and renewal.


FROM CLAIRE ROSSER IN KLIATT (May 2007). Heneghan is a wonderful storyteller, with Irish charm evident in the cadence of the narrative, filled with humor and drama. This would be a particularly successful choice for classes of younger adolescents who need to think carefully about bullying and its repercussions. Charley’s dilemma, whether or not to protect Benny, will be understood by all readers. And the dramatic ending, the payback, is satisfying.

FROM HAZEL ROCHMAN IN BOOKLIST. “I didn’t stand up for him. I just watched.” After his eighth-grade classmate Benny commits suicide, Charley blames himself. Why did he refuse to be Benny’s friend? Why did he do nothing when he saw the bullies torment Benny and call him “fag”? Was it because, as a new Irish immigrant in Vancouver, Charley himself was threatened and bullied? The messages about the bystander’s position are overt and include Martin Niemoller’s famous quote about the Holocaust (“Then they came for the Jews and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then . . .”). But the drama of guilt, sorrow, and redemption is honest and heartfelt, told in Charley’s spare, fast, first-person narrative, as he grieves for his recently dead mother, nurtures his little sister, and helps Benny’s mom. Benny’s father is a dark, monstrous villain, but the other characters are well drawn, including the school authorities, who do nothing. A good title for group discussion.

FROM MELISSA, AGE 15, IN KIDSWWRITE (, July 2007). Payback is a heart wrenching and truly numbing read. It pulls the reader in just from the cover picture. It is a story that I won’t forget any time soon. The characters are wonderful and I adored every last one of them. The Irish accents are very refreshing as well! The story had twists that one would not expect to happen, and it all takes place in an unforeseen sequence. I found this book amazingly easy to relate to. It helps me remember that bullying and excluding others can have terrible consequences. I recommend this book for readers twelve years and older. A must read for all teenagers. It definitely leaves a strong message with the reader. I give Payback five scary-truth stars.

FROM KM IN THE BULLETIN OF THE CENTER FOR CHILDREN’S BOOKS (July/August 2007). Charley’s emotional trajectory is convincingly portrayed; especially poignant are the imagined conversations he has with his late mom while skipping school to lie in her closet, surrounded by her scent. Because they are seen through the fog of Charley’s depression and guilt, secondary characters are less well articulated, but overall this is a quietly affecting tale of grief and emotional healing.

FROM DR. ANDREA DEAKIN IN DEAKIN NEWSLETTER (June 2007). James Heneghan draws a realistic picture of a busy overcrowded school where, to some extent, everyone is responsible for what happened to Benny, especially a discipline-addicted vice-principal who does not have the insight or compassion to see beyond a rule being broken. In the end he is subtly drawn as the one obvious character who is not fully involved in the school mourning. Charley is an intriguing character, a lad with the potential to become a fine man, a boy with subtlety of mind, warmth and some insight who is tackling pressures on the spirit before he has yet learned exactly how to deal with them.

FROM BRIANNE GRANT IN CM MAGAZINE (April 13, 2007). Recommended, *** 1/2 stars out of 4. Young Charley Callaghan, a recent Irish immigrant to North Vancouver, begins his narrative by claiming that “this story is not about me.” In truth, Payback, by James Heneghan, is a refreshing exploration of the psychological trauma experienced by Charley as he deals with both his mother’s death and a suicide at his school. This novel has all of the tenets of realistic fiction: it is harsh, critical, and unflinching. The one element of this genre that Payback does not include is didacticism, and so it excels in presenting the difficult issue of school bullying and suicide without a heavy dose of adult finger wagging. By focusing on the psychological progression of Charley, Heneghan creates a gritty and compelling story that reflects an often ignored phenomenon of youth culture in public schools. … Through natural sounding language in the voice of a complex central character, Heneghan traverses rough territory where everyone from the school principal to casual witnesses of bullying are complicit in teen suicide. The story never shrivels into ‘the problem novel’ as the emotional landscape of Charley (and all teens) is too vast and too complicated to be belittled into such narrow confines. Payback is a refreshingly honest novel that seriously looks at the experiences of young boys in contemporary junior high school. Brianne Grant is a student in the Master of Arts in Children’s Literature at the University of British Columbia.