Steadfast love and friendship stand proof against the changes and challenges of war for a group of Edwardian-era children.
The effects of the Great War still resonate, at least for British novelists, and here McKay adds to the crowded shelves with a tale featuring an ensemble cast of siblings, relatives, and school friends (many previously met through flashbacks in Binny in Secret, 2015) growing up in Plymouth and summering in Cornwall before, during, and (for survivors) after. At the center of the cast is Clarissa “Clarry” Penrose, ignored by her widowed father, raised by housekeepers along with her fretful, saturnine older brother, Peter, but gifted with both a bright intellect and a happy, affectionate disposition. Both serve her in good stead through expanding self-expectations as a girl and then woman while others, notably dashing yet “recklessly kind” older cousin Rupert, enter the story and then go off to war. The author shifts among multiple points of view to explore developing relationships from different angles and to relate incidents along the curved front’s “monstrous smile” in a frank but dispassionate way that leaves readers free to respond as they will. She carries the story several years beyond the war’s end to show happy endings for nearly everyone and, for Clarry, a surprise reunion guaranteed to leave nary a dry eye in the house. As McKay fans can rightly expect, each character (all are white) displays an individually distinct mix of temperament, outlook, abilities, and foibles, but all, even the minor ones, are fundamentally decent and—though sometimes with some effort—lovable.
Winning as ever, with an overall Little Princess feel reminiscent of McKay’s own sequel to that classic, Wishing for Tomorrow (2010). (Historical fiction. 11-13)