It's July 1940 on the marshy Kentish coast of England, and the Battle of Britain is being fought overhead.
Sixteen-year-old Peggy and her 11-year-old brother, Ernest, are helping out on their uncle's farm while their mother works in a nearby town. Their father's gone; it's not clear where, though Peggy is clearly ashamed by his absence. All of England expects a German invasion. Ernest sees a plane get swallowed by the marsh; Peggy, awake that night, discovers its pilot, who bailed out: not a German but a Polish refugee named Henryk flying for the RAF. Henryk can't bring himself to rejoin the fight, so Peggy hides him in an abandoned church nearby. Told in chapters that alternate perspectives among Peggy, Ernest, and Henryk, Syson does a beautiful job capturing the essence of the war in rural England. All three people are well-rounded, and descriptions and dialogue propel readers forward—unfortunately, to a somewhat unsatisfying conclusion that feels added on, a sudden spurt of adventure in what had been a novel of character. The mystery of Peggy and Ernest's dad is very nearly an afterthought.
Rewarding on many levels, but it doesn't deliver all that it seems to promise. (Historical fiction. 12-16)