Monday, May 20, 2019

When We Were Warriors by Emma Carroll

After reading Emma Carroll's WWII book Letters from the Lighthouse a while back, I knew I was going to have to go back for more. So I was pretty happy when I read about When We Were Warriors and ordered it from Book Depository immediately.

This time, instead of a complete novel, Carroll has written three short stories, all set in the summer of 1942, all along the Devon coast, and connected to each other by an interesting thread.

Story number 1 is called "The Night Visitors" and the main protagonist is a boy named Stan. Living in Bristol, Stan and his sisters are on their way to get some fish and chips for dinner when a bomb hits and changes their lives. With their house destroyed, and their mum hurt rather badly, Stan, older sister June, and younger sister Maggie are evacuated to the Somerset hills, to a large old supposedly haunted house called Frost Hollow Hall, joining other kids who have already been there for a while.

No sooner are they told about the three places on the property that are off limits to all the evacuees, then June and Clive Spencer, a smirky troublemaker, come up with a game of dare - it's the boys against the girls, and whichever team nicks the most things from each forbidden areas is the winner. Just as the game takes off, American soldiers arrive when one of their drivers, Eddie Johnson, drives right off the road and into a ditch outside Frost Hollow Hall. Left there to take care of the vehicle, things suddenly take a very strange turn.

The second story is called "Olive's Army" and takes place Budmouth Point, not far from Frost Hollow Hall. Londoners Olive and younger brother Cliff live with Ephraim Pengilly, the lighthouse keeper, while older sister Sukie and friend Esther, who had come to England on the Kindertransport, live with Queenie, the postmistress. Needless to say, Olive is quite shocked when Sukie announces that she is going to marry Ephraim, as soon as she asked him. But when a body washes up on the beach with identity papers claiming he is Ephraim Pengilly and that he is German, Sukie's fiancé is taken away to Plymouth for questioning - the day before their wedding.

Enter the Americans - who decide that the papers the dead man is carrying are plans for the German invasion everyone in Britain has been expecting. Off they go, following the plans to stop the invasion and leaving one soldier behind to guard the dead body. Yep, none other than Eddie Johnson. But what happens when Olive figures out what the German's plan is really about? Can she convince everyone, including Eddie, of what she's worked out and stop the invasion?

The third and final story is called "Operation Greyhound" and takes place in Plymouth, just up the coast from Budmouth lighthouse. Plymouth has already been nearly bombed out of existence, but when yet another air raid siren goes off, Velvet Jones heads to the shelter with her best friend Lynn. Luckily, their shelter warden, Mr. Perks, lets everyone bring their pets to the shelter, too. But on this night, they have a new warden, Mr. Jackson, and he is not letting pets into the shelter anymore. And now it's even more crowded that usual as people from Portland Place are sharing the shelter, thanks to bombing, including stuck up Mrs. Clements and son Robert.

Velvet and Lynn take it upon themselves to find an alternative pet-friendly shelter, but on the first night, Velvet finds a man lying in the street as bombs begin to fall, and yep, it's Eddie Johnson, American soldier. After helping him, Velvet realizes that their alternative shelter isn't going to work out, and she and Lynn decide to find another solution. But when they discover their truth about Robert Clements's father and then he and his pregnant dog go missing, the girls make some surprising discoveries, because sometimes people just aren't who or what you think they are. 

When I first got When We Were Warriors, I was a little disappointed to see it was three stories instead of a novel, but no sooner did I begin reading, and I was totally hooked, reading it straight through. It was, simply said, unputdownable.

And there were a lot of things I liked about this book. I loved that the stories are connected to each other by the presence of Eddie Johnson, an African American soldier on his own personal mission and whose life is ultimately changed. I also loved that so many characters were diverse. I had no idea how diverse small towns along the coast of England were at the time, but I somehow found it plausible. And I did discover that there apparently was some diversity in port cities, thanks to WWI (see Mixing It: Diversity in World War Two Britain by Wendy Webster, Oxford UP, 2018).

Did you recognize Olive, Sukie and Cliff in the second story? That's because they are the same wonderful characters in Letters From the Lighthouse and they are every bit as appealing. Remember Frost Hollow Hall in the first story? Well, I didn't, but you can bet the book by the same name will be the next Emma Carroll novel I read.

If you are looking for a great book that explores themes of family and friendship along with some mystery and adventure, look no further that When We Were Warriors for a wonderfully satisfying middle grade book.

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

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