Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Days of Grace by Catherine Hall

Summary (taken from the back of the book):  "At the beginning of World War II, twelve-year-old Nora Lynch is one of thousands of London children sent away to the safety of the English countryside.  Her surrogate family, Reverend and Mrs. Rivers and their daughter Grace, are like no one she has ever met, offering shelter, affection, and the sister she never had.  But Nora is too young and too naive to understand the cracks beneath the surface of her idyllic new life at the rectory or the disappointments of the Rivers' marriage.  And as her friendship with Grace grows more intense, she aches to become even closer.  What happens next is a secret she keeps for more than fifty years, a secret that she can begin to reveal only when, elderly and alone, she knows that she is close to the end." 

And here's what I thought:  the back of of the book mentions, "Fans of Atonement and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society will find this atmospheric, tautly plotted novel irresistible."   Well, I have not read Atonement, but I did read Guernsey, and I'm not sure if I would totally agree with the statement that I should also love this book.  It's true at all of them are war stories, set in England, with prominent female characters.   This story does have a taut plot, and great pacing.   And, while I didn't always love the main character, I did want to keep reading to find out more of her story.

The story is told directly from the viewpoint of Nora Lynch, at times in the present, where she is an old woman battling an illness, and at times, in the past, where she is reflecting upon her younger self.   She's written in a very realistic way, flaws and all ;at times, I was exasperated by her.  However, Hall brings to this story a character I found difficult not to care about.    When Nora is twelve (an age that can be tricky for any of us --- just on the cusp of many changes), her mother sends her away to a safer place, not knowing anything about the people who are going to take her in.   Nora and her mother are obviously poor, but this isn't the only change that Nora faces when she meets the Rivers family.   Nora's also Catholic, an element which is woven throughout this story, as Nora finds she turns to her Catholic upbringing to explain things that are happening in her life (for better or for worse).

One of the main themes in this story is friendship, and relationships in general.   Grace, the daughter of Reverend and Mrs. Rivers, is like the sister Nora never had.   Her relationship with Nora is something that drives this story, and the reader experiences, through Nora's telling, the changes that occur as the two girls grow up, amidst the tense backdrop of the war.   Grace isn't always nice, so be forewarned: this isn't always a rosy, beautiful story of flawless friendship.   In fact, Nora's relationship with Grace even affects how she relates to other people as a much older adult.  

The alternating chapters moved effortlessly from time period to time period, always allowing some understanding into how Nora's present reflected her past.  Both the characters and the setting were written very realistically; I had no times when I put the book down, thinking, "It was a war.  That wouldn't have happened." Even when I would grow frustrated with Nora's character, I never once felt she wasn't written in a true way.    I found this book very difficult to put down, and basically read it over two days (lucky for me -- I had plenty of reading time recently, as a lovely summer cold has been keeping me awake at night with an annoying cough).  This is a book I actually would recommend to readers who enjoyed Guernsey (no, I'm not typing the entire long title here --- I referred to it at the beginning of my post), and Atonement.   I found it to be well-written, and an enjoyable read.   

This book was very nicely sent my way courtesy of the Publisher, and I thank them for it!


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