From the dawn of World War II through the course of the war, four young people grow up. There is Ruby, born with speckled birthmarks on her face, who is bullied for them and spends much of her time alone or in her family’s British news shop. There is Kate, who has a constant cough and anxiety and who is looked after by her older siblings until they have to leave the house. In Germany, Erik and Hans grow up as best friends living in the same building. They tend to swallow chicks together, dream of working in a zoo and pastry shop, and spend time at the airfield. As the war progresses and the Nazis take over, they become part of the Luftwaffe. The girls are also impacted by the war, rescuing a dog who has been released by his owner, moving to safer areas due to the bombing, and helping neighbors understand what is happening in Europe. Both the English and German characters have loving uncles who appear in their lives, fix things and set things up and then disappear again. As these characters survive the war, their lives impact upon one another in tragic and unexpected ways.
I am a great fan of McKay’s work. Her writing takes on serious issues yet she manages to truly show the deep humanity of all of her characters through small memorable moments that impact their lives. It may be a wild and drunken Christmas that ends with a crash, it may be saving a diminutive elderly woman with fierceness and physical strength, it may be rescuing a very smelly dog from the streets, or it could be visiting with women who have staunch victory gardens and a tendency toward hoarding. Each one of these is so well written and described that the scenes are vivid and the moments uniquely special.
The characters themselves are also beautifully written, each with their own tone and style. It is particularly noteworthy to have two German characters from World War II who retain their humor and humanity through the entire story. They are written with a deep empathy for the situation of the German people during the Nazi regime and an eye towards also showing that families did what they could to save neighbors. The English girls are a delightful mix of bravery, steadiness and wild adventures that keep the book lighter than it could have been.
Another gorgeous read from McKay, this time illuminating both sides of World War II. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy provided by Margaret K. McElderry Books.