I’m fascinated by the London blitz. It was an extraordinary time that brought out the best in people: courage, unity and sheer, unwavering resilience. It’s things like the Blitz (and the BBC! and the British Museum! and mince pies! and…) that make me the anglophile I am 🙂 I’ve read several books about it, saw movies and documentaries and have on my living-room wall, right next to my bookshelf, this famous image of a London library after an attack:

Within the topic of the Blitz, I find the evacuation of the city’s children to the country especially interesting. Don’t you think it’s the perfect fertile ground for a book? City children, half scared, half excited, are taken to adoptive families in the British countryside. I can already see a dozen stories popping-up in my head.

Paradise Barn is a children’s mystery set exactly during the Blitz. In the small English village of Great Deeping life for best-friends Molly and Abigail seems uncomplicated, even with the frequent air-raid warnings and food coupons brought on by the war. But two events will shatter their well-ordered routine: a stranger is found murdered in their village (close to their homes!) and Adam, an evacuee boy from London, has come to live at Molly’s house. Soon the two girls team-up with Adam to solve the mystery.

The plot follows in the footsteps of Enid Blyton but with a modern edge that makes it appealing to adults. In a way it’s also a coming of age story because we see these children process change, grief and The Unknown. At some point for instance, Molly is confronted with the extraordinary concept that sometimes it’s better to tell a lie and that not everything (or everyone) is either good or bad. Moral greyness is one of the toughest parts of becoming an adult: it’s when you start making the tough choices. All these conflicts are subtlety dealt with and at no point does Paradise Barn becomes patronizing or simplistic. 

The story also mixes “rich historical detail with suspense and adventure”. I was absolutely engrossed by the vivid descriptions of the air-raids over Great Deeping and the London bombings. In the background, Victor Watson gives us glimpses of the day-to-day life of a small village during WWII (a particular episode involving an invitation for tea got me a bit teary).

Comparisons with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie are inevitable, but if made choose, I’d be in the Paradise Barn team. Somehow I didn’t fell as warmly towards (or as close to) Flavia as I did towards the Molly and Adam. The lovely art cover and the charming map of the village inside also helped create the right “mood” for the story. As other reviewers described it on GoodReads: serene and unpretentious.

Any good recommendations for books set in/about the Blitz?

Advertisements