In 1939 at the outbreak of World War Two, thousands of children were evacuated from London and sent to live in the countryside. One of these children, Anna Sands, is an eight year old only child, whose father is away fighting the war in North Africa. She is fully expecting she will be living at the seaside, but instead finds herself in a stately home, Ashton Park on the North Yorkshire moors. The hosts, Thomas and Elizabeth Ashton, a childless couple, burdened by their family misfortunes are doing their bit for the war effort as they open their home to children and set up a school. Thomas is wheelchair bound as a result of polio and his wife Elizabeth is a tortured soul. Their hope is to keep the war from their isolated world but in doing this their own relationship unravels.
Anna is a quiet, intelligent and observant child who is a likeable heroine of the story. She becomes attached to Thomas Ashton as a teacher and mentor and though she misses home thrives in her new environment. Anna becomes involved as witness and accomplice in matters she does not understand and the tragic consequences reverberate for years to come. Besides the Ashtons, there are many characters to keep up with in the novel. Without providing a spoiler, Anna is reunited with family before the war ends and returns to her home in London. However, the experience at Ashton Hall stays with her into adulthood and she ultimately returns to have tea with Thomas many decades later.
Rosie Allen’s debut novel was shortlisted for the Orange Prize and is a well-researched atmospheric novel that reminds one of Atonement by Ian McEwan. It stemmed from a batch of papers her father left that belonged to his cousin who was a diplomat during the war. This is a rite of passage story, a historical novel, a love story, a story about love, longing, loss and loyalties that will stay with you after the last page is finished.
Luba Sawczyn is Branch Manager at the Graham Public Library. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 336-570-6730.