There’s a saying about real life: it’s very poorly organized. In fiction, we can have our make-believe people say all the right things in all the right places, craft our villains into anything from being totally evil to fatally misunderstood, and decide if our protagonist is going to be a hero. When you’re writing about something that really happened, all that freedom goes away. In many respects, it’s the ultimate writing challenge.
This book rises to that occasion. It’s the remembrances of a girl growing up in WWII England, so the antagonist is the war itself. Young Elsie couldn’t remember a time when food, coal, and clothing hadn’t been rationed. One of her greatest reliefs was that she didn’t have to actually wear her gas mask. She’d never seen poison falling from the sky, but she could see the worry in her father’s face when he talked to her about it.
That’s the sort of detail that makes up this story. A terrible threat that modern readers never had to face—or worse, prepare their children for—but it’s taken in stride. That’s what life was, and people simply had to adapt. The house was cold, but there wasn’t enough to coal to heat the front room. Everyone grew gardens as part of the “Dig for Victory” war initiative, and children sang the words to the accompanying anthem so often that they remembered it decades later. And at night before she fell asleep, young Elsie would listen for the engines of German bombers and the whistle of the bombs as they flew toward England.
Not all the story relates directly to the war. Elsie went to school, made plum pudding with her mother for Christmas, rejoiced in the gift of her very own doll, and went swimming in the summer. But even there, on something as idyllic as a riverbank in rural England, unexpected tragedy could befall. One of Elsie’s neighbors cut his foot while playing, like any kid could do, only he died swiftly of lockjaw. No tetanus vaccines or antibiotics were available back then.
This is the sort of history that I love to read—all the stuff you can’t find in newspaper stories, but it made up the fabric of people’s lives. If that sort of tale is your cup of tea, I strongly recommend checking out this book.
The Look Inside is here: https://www.amazon.com/While-Bombs-Fell-Robbie-Cheadle-ebook/dp/B07GZ2NZFK/. Happy reading! : )