Saturday, 23 January 2010

Against the Tide by Theresa Tomlinson

2005, Corgi
259 pages, Paperback
Review Copy

Children's, historical

Cushions: 1
Smiles: 2
Paperclips: 0.5
Tissues: 3
Yunaleska's recommended rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Theresa Tomlinson has established herself as a talented writer of historical fiction, particularly when pinpointing her home territory on the NE coast of England. Here in one volume are three of her most gripping novels in which she describes the courage and humour with which the fishing families face up to the hard conditions of their lives.

The Flither Pickers of Sandwick Bay spend their days gathering shellfish on the shore - limpets and mussels - and baiting the lines for the fishermen . The story centres on young Liza Welford whose mother is haunted by an accident in the past.

In THE HERRING GIRLS, when tragedy strikes the Lythe family, 13-year-old Dory joins the tough world of the Scotch herring girls in Whitby in order to earn money and save her brothers and sisters from the workhouse.

Family life is destroyed for Ann and Polly Lancroft in BENEATH BURNING MOUNTAIN when the violent and merciless press-gangs invade the cliffs where men and women create alum crystals for a livelihood - and their home is wiped out by a sudden landslide.

I like historical tales that focus on ordinary people who experience an event that changes their lives forever. It's a pleasure to learn about different trades (fishing, alum workers) in a way that doesn't have me yawning from long passages of text. Anyone learning about life in the nineteenth century will find it easier to experience how tough living in a fishing village was. Environmental themes touched on in the book include erosion and what happens when people lose their homes.

All three stories benefit from strong, individual characters. I like how the characters overlap in The Filther Pickers and The Herring Girls: it provides a sense of familiarity. Each of the girls has a strength to carry them through the curve balls life throws at them.

Living in England, it is enjoyable to learn more about areas which I vaguely know the location of. I'm not great at geography: for a long time I thought Yorkshire was in the South-East of the country. Fishing towns live near an unpredictable force: the sea. The sea can provide life, and takes it away in all three stories. The sea's nature changes daily, and these changes shape Ann, Polly, Liza and Dory's lives.

There's a strong theme of family and friendship in these books. Theresa explores what happens when children lose parents at a time when orphanages was nearly the only option left for orphans. The determination of all the girls to keep their family together pushes them to physical limits. As a reader I shared all the emotional highs and lows that the changes in situation provided the girls. I felt humbled by the girls' spirit - they have nothing but throw themselves into turning their lives around. They are able to do this against adversity with the help, sometimes unexpected, of neighbours and friends, both old and new.

Theresa can be found on her website here.

Try out Between Two Seas by Marie-Louise Jensen.


Becky said...

I'm not convinced I'd enjoy this one but thanks for an interesting review.

Yunaleska said...

I think its a style of historical which isn't for everyone (just like every book isn't for everyone), but thanks for still reading the review.