STARRED REVIEW
November 2017

The Secret of Nightingale Wood

By Lucy Strange
This evocative novel, set in England in the aftermath of World War I, explores a time period little known to American children.
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BookPage Children’s Top Pick, November 2017

The year is 1919. In Great Britain, World War I has ended, but the scars of that terrible conflict remain, both for veterans and bereaved families. Twelve-year-old Henry (short for Henrietta) and her family have come from London to spend the summer in the countryside. They’re seeking to heal from a different tragedy: Henry’s older brother has died in a fire, devastating them all, especially Henry’s mother.

“Coming to live here at Hope House was supposed to make Mama better,” Henry says, “but she wasn’t getting better, she was getting worse. It was as if she was becoming a ghost.”

Ghosts are an underlying theme in Lucy Strange’s poignant debut, published earlier in the U.K. to critical acclaim. At times, Henry imagines conversations with her brother. But one ghost in Nightingale Wood turns out to be real: a ghostly pale, witch-like woman named Moth.

When Henry’s father departs for several months of work abroad, he leaves the nanny in charge and his wife in the care of the disreputable Dr. Hardy. Increasingly, Henry feels like she’s losing control of her family. The situation escalates when the doctor insists Henry’s baby sister would be better cared for by his wife, and he commits Henry’s mother to a mental institution. Can Henry find adult allies to help her?

As with Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s The War I Finally Won, set during World War II, this evocative novel explores a time period little known to American children. And while a note on the historical period would be a welcome addition, young readers will nevertheless identify with Henry’s desire to find a way to hold her family together—and find hope again.

 

Deborah Hopkinson lives near Portland, Oregon. Her most recent book for young readers is Independence Cake.

This article was originally published in the November 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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The Secret of Nightingale Wood

The Secret of Nightingale Wood

By Lucy Strange
Chicken House
ISBN 9781338157475

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