Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Guest Blog Post & Review: Evie's War by Holly Webb (Children's, 9 years +, 10E/10E)

October 2018, Scholastic, 330 pages, Paperback, Review copy

Summary from Scholastic
Glorious stuff from Holly! When the First World War comes to Whitby, things are lost, found and utterly changed… It’s 1914. Britain is on the cusp of war, but in the seaside town of Whitby, Evie’s family has already been touched by tragedy. As they mourn the death of Evie’s younger brother, Alexander, her big brother David distracts himself with fantasies of fighting. But when war breaks out for real and David enlists in the army, Evie’s heartbroken mother must face her terror of losing another son. The struggles and sacrifices of the war effort lie ahead for all of them, but at least Evie and her parents are safe in Whitby. Aren’t they?

Nayu's thoughts
Usually I remove the extra parts to a synopsis that publishers put on their websites, but on this occasion their first sentence is spot on! Holly is very much a favourite author for me, search her name on my blog as I've written several reviews for her various books. Now this isn't one of her usual cute and fluffy reads about animals. There are animals involved in Evie's tale, but what happens isn't pleasant, and that's all I'm saying without spoiling it. I usually run a mile from war books as they have a tendency to bring me down. I know wars happen that involve atrocities but lighter reads are more my thing.
However, it is nearly 100 since World War 1, and it being Holly I knew I'd like some of the story. Honestly it may not be reread, because books like these stay in my memory longer than I like. I don't mean that in a bad way, but they can really get to me. I fully support all the attention WW1 is getting, especially this year. Admittedly, and perhaps controversially, I actually don't wear a poppy to visibly show my support. I'm not against them in any way, and I show I'm Muslim when I'm out by wearing a headscarf. I just feel that I don't need to always show what I'm supporting to everyone, what matters is that I keep all the men, women, and children who supported the war and who fell victim to it in my thoughts and prayers. 

Saying that made me think of part of the book when I loved Evie's younger sister Kitty more than ever (she's adorable): she makes a public stand when a guy was being bullied for being home when it looked like he should be fighting. It turns out there's a reason for that, which the bullies didn't think to ask. It's a good lesson on not making judgements on people! Plus Kitty is a fun character to read about. I was scared when she and Evie ended up near a bombing. What's even scarier is that Holly says at the end of the novel that that particular incident actually did happen. So too did the dark but rather funny song which got banned at Evie and Holly's school. 

On Twitter I told Holly she was brilliantly evil, because she is. She really knows how to pull punches (figuratively), and boy do you get them in Evie's tale (which I first wrote as Eevee the Pokemon, rather than the girl. The game is almost out and I'm a huge Eevee fangirl, same as I'm a Holly fangirl.) You will need tissues, for the cruelty of life falls on Evie and her family. While not written in too much detail, there are a few places where Evie learns how hard fighting on the front line was, how it affected the soldiers there, and why her reluctance and disobedience about an important issue was selfish because of all the good that topic would do. I'm not spoiling the story for you, but I will say I was conflicted while reading it. I saw how that issue was necessary, I don't necessarily agree with it nowadays but I understood why it had to happen and also sided with Evie not because she was being selfish (she was in a way) but she was following her heart, something that I firmly believe in. I would have felt exactly the same way at her age, and even a few decades on I'd be horrified if I had to do it. Hopefully that last big makes sense, it's hard avoiding saying what happened because it's a major plot spoiler!

There are many characters in the book, and the two that stuck out the most after Evie and Kitty is actually their parents. They both react in ways I'd typically associate for people of that era to react to the horrible happenings of war. Kitty and Evie's father is stern and strict, but I promise there are a few touching moments in the book that made me almost reach for a tissue. 

Their mother falls to pieces at the death of their younger brother, and the girls learn to tiptoe around her and not rely on her for support. Their mother has odd moments where she is sensible, but there's one thing she does which isn't at all sensible, and a tiny bit to do with the occult (yes, I was shocked too) and let's just say it's a situation that I actively usually avoid reading in books because I'm wary of it in real life. I thought it was going to be a ouija board which freaks me out, but I told myself this is a book for 9 year olds so it can't be horrendously scary, and thankfully I was correct in the scary part, wrong in presuming what happened. It ended up being very amusing! 

Holly manages to strike a good balance of light-ish moments along with the many heavier moments that are a part of any war. It was interesting getting both Evie and Kitty's view on events, which differed a bit because of their age. I liked it when Evie held back some info from Kitty because she was too young to need to know it. Both their childhoods were changed because of the war, yet Evie protected some innocence for her bolder younger sister which was sweet to read about. I liked the insight to that time in history, and realised more than ever just how hard it must have been back then without faster communication, the internet and mobile phones didn't exist then, they had to wait even longer for letters to arrive which could be intercepted and heavily delayed. All in all this is another stellar read from Holly! 

Go check out her many books on her website, and enjoy Holly's guest blog post!

Suggested read
I can recommend two other books by Holly which touch on another war and also the suffragette movement: it is coincidence that these are the books at the back of Evie's War: Return to the Secret Garden by Holly Webb (Children's, 9 years +, 10E/10E, short 'n' sweet review) 

Guest Blog Post by Holly Webb 

Meet Holly!

Did events from your own family help you create this tale, or was inspiration taken from somewhere else?

My grandfather (my father's father) actually lied about his age to take part in the First World War. He was a stretcher bearer. My dad first told me about this when I was doing GCSE History, and I was fascinated, especially with the documents my dad still has, like my grandfather's paybook. I really wanted to include this in the book, especially the effect it would have on the rest of a family. Also, this book is set in Whitby, not far from Saltburn where my mother grew up. She knows Whitby very well, and came with me on my research trip!

Alexander’s death would have been tough on it’s own, but adding in war increases the tragedy even further: what was your reasoning for giving Evie more than one tragic event?

I needed Evie and Kitty to be turned upside down. It sounds really cruel of me! But I wanted their very settled existence with their family and their governess to be shaken - before the war then had such tragic effects on the whole world around them. Also, mortality figures for that period are terrifying - in 1901, 40% of deaths were children under 14. By 1926 that was down to 20%, but so many families would have lost young children.

What kind of research did you need to do for this book? Did it involve talking to WW1 veterans?

I didn't actually talk to veterans, but I read a lot of letters and accounts from the time.

What would you like readers to take away from Evie’s tale?

Just how many lives were forever changed by the First World War - David goes off to fight thinking the war will be a chance to prove how brave and patriotic he is, and his sisters are proud of him, even though they're worried. By the end of the book, Evie is coming to realise what a terrible waste of life the war has been.

Where is your favourite place to write? What’s your favourite kind of drink when writing (non-alcoholic)?

I have a small writing space which used to be the back end of our garage - it fits me, a lovely purple velvet armchair, a lot of books, a dolls' house (there will be a book about the dolls' house at some point!) and up to three cats. I drink a LOT of coffee. I became addicted to coffee when I first worked as an editor - going to make coffee was a very good excuse to get up and move!


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