Peggy Larkin’s War is the kind of book that makes you glad about the rise of indie publishing. It’s not the type of children’s novel I can imagine any large publishing house taking on – it’s too gentle, unflashy and determinedly old-fashioned; it doesn’t have merchandising or movie potential, and there are no dragons, witches or vampires. Yet it would be a great shame if this never reached a readership, as Trevor Forest is a born storyteller, and this is a lovely little novel, full of charm and kindness.
For young readers learning about World War Two, the novel is a wonderful glimpse into how it must have felt to be a child at that time. We see the sacrifices and tragedies of ordinary people – fathers at war, children separated from parents, families struggling to eat one meal a day, the everyday dangers of illnesses like diabetes and scarlet fever when medicine was less advanced. Feisty ten-year old Peggy Larkin, sent to the countryside as an evacuee, is a very likeable character: brave, cheeky, nosy but ultimately good. Getting lost on her way (she gets off the train at a station to use the toilet), Peggy finally arrives to find she has been separated from her brother and has to stay with the strict Mrs Henderson, meaning she struggles to fit in from the very beginning.
Through Peggy’s eyes we see with real freshness the reality of life in the 1940s: the kids with lice, the tins of tooth-powder, the fish-paste sandwiches, weekly baths, Winnie the Pooh and posters that say ‘Walls have Ears.’ Some of the details are genuinely fascinating – I didn’t realize that road and station signs were removed to confuse the Germans if they landed.
The characters are well drawn – from the stationmaster who steals Peggy’s sandwiches to her friend Alfie. Particularly convincing is the brittle, secretive Mrs Henderson (whose first act when Peggy arrives is to check her tea-making skills are up to scratch). The only character I don’t quite ‘get’ is the baddie of the novel – the ‘stranger’ Peggy keeps glimpsing in the bushes called William Travers – as I don’t think we’re given enough sense of his character or insight into the motivation behind his shocking actions.
It’s a minor criticism though. This is a great historical novel for kids, recreating a lost world with a light touch that means it never feels like a lesson. The plot is well-paced and involving, and by the end you really care about Peggy. I’m sure this novel will leave children keen to read more of Peggy’s adventures. In its moral values and clear prose-style Peggy Larkin’s War reminds me very much of the Enid Blyton books I loved as a child, which is no bad thing at all. It will appeal to children 7-10 and their adults.
Reviewed by Evie Glass
Peggy Larkin’s War is available as Kindle ebook (and in paperback)
Find out more about Trevor here