La description

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.


  • Commended, OLA Best Bets - Reading for Young Adults (Fiction) 2007
  • Long-listed, ALA Best Books for Young Adults 2008
  • Commended, CCBC Best Books for Kids & Teens 2008 2008
  • Commended, Capitol Choices: Noteworthy Titles for Children and Teens 2007


...excels in presenting the difficult issue of school bullying and suicide without a heavy dose of adult finger wagging...Heneghan [has created] a gritty and compelling story that reflects an often ignored phenomenon of youth culture in public schools...Payback is a refreshingly honest novel that seriously looks at the experiences of young boys in contemporary junior high school. Highly Recommended.

- CM Magazine

Heneghan is a wonderful storyteller, with Irish charm evident in the cadence of the narrative, filled with humour and drama.

- Kliatt

...a quietly affecting tale of grief and emotional healing.

- Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

...realistically portrays how males typically interact with each other...The tragic story of suicide is presented with sensitivity and from the point of view of adolescents. The short chapters, easy to understand adolescent style diction and the realistic plot makes this book a great addition to a classroom/library.

- Resource Links

...the drama of guilt, sorrow, and redemption is honest and heartfelt, told in Charley's spare, fast, first-person narrative...A good title for group discussion.

- Booklist

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...Readers will find a character or situation to identify with and will admire the means by which Charley achieves some peace of mind.

- School Library Journal