Friday, July 7, 2017

Letters from the Lighthouse by Emma Carroll

I was inspired to read this novel when I read about it on Mr. Ripley’s Enchanted Books 
last June. So I ordered a copy from The Book Depository and began reading the day it arrived and finished it in one sitting. Needless to say, it is a really good novel.

It’s February 1941, and even though it isn't usual, older sister Sukie Bradshaw has decided to take siblings Olive, 12, and Cliff, 8, to see a movie after tea. But no sooner do they get through the newsreel but the air raid siren goes off. To make matters worse, Sukie has disappeared. Leaving her brother at the Underground shelter, Olive goes in search of Sukie, and just as she reaches her sister, another bomb falls way too close to them. When Olive wakes up in hospital, she learns that Sukie is still  missing, and that she and younger brother Cliff are going to be evacuated to Budmouth Point, on the Devon coast, for safety. 

Olive has already lost her dad to the war when his plane was shot down, and can’t bear that her sister may be gone too. But how can she figure out where Sukie is and who the man she met just before that bomb fell is if she’s in Devon? Still, as soon as she is able, Olive and Cliff are sent to live with Queenie, the sister of their London neighbor, and Sukie's supposed pen-pal. 

Things don’t work out at Queenie’s, who is always busy doing all kinds of work in the cellar, and using Olive to make deliveries for her around the village. It gets especially hairy after Olive is forced to share her room with Esther Jenkins, an evacuee with whom Olive already has a contentious relationship. Olive and Cliff soon find themselves living with Ephraim, the lighthouse keeper. Life is better at the lighthouse, where Ephraim insists on doing everything, where the food is better and Cliff even has a dog to pal around with. 

It doesn’t take long for Olive to realize that there’s an awful lot of activity on the lighthouse radio, much more that seems right. Meanwhile, Olive is also trying to work out the coded message she found in the coat Sukie was wearing the night she disappeared. The longer Olive is lives in Budmouth Point, the more she realizes that Sukie’s disappearance just might have something to do with the clandestine activity she's noticed among some of the village residents…but what could it possibly be?

Letters from the Lighthouse is an exciting adventure and Olive is very appealing, lively narrator. There was something about her story that reminded me so much of the books I read about kids in WWII that were written during the war. The thing I noticed in those books was the ability to carry on despite the uncertainly of the future. One always hopes for the best, and that is the feeling that Carroll captured writing about Olive's search for Sukie - she is so convinced her sister is okay somewhere in the world and she needed to figure out where.  

As Olive's story unfolds, Carroll also provides the reader with a window though which to see and understand just what it means to be a child and live in a country at war and under siege, realistically depicting the fears and the privations, as well as the importance of family. the value of friends and neighbors, and need to learn trust and tolerance. Heading each chapter with expressions, warnings, and advice that were common during the war also helps give the novel a sense of authenticity.

As much as I enjoyed Letters from the Lighthouse, I did have a few plot points that bothered me - like how did Olive end up with the coat Sukie was wearing when the bomb fell in London, and how what happened to Sukie actually happened. They were explainable, but not to my satisfaction. BUT, these were not game changers for me, and if you like historical fiction about WWII, they shouldn't be for you either. 

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was purchased for my personal library

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