When the War Came Home

Lesley Parr

Although we haven’t yet waved goodbye to 2021, I think I may have found one of my favourite books of 2022! Although technically I read it this year, the official publication date for When the War Came Home is the 6th January 2022 (I was lucky to pick up a copy a few days early in my local Waterstones which is always exciting!)

After reading Lesley’s first novel The Valley of Lost Secrets this was a highly anticipated book for me and I desperately fought the urge to read the early chapters released on Netgalley – didn’t want to spoil it for myself! Honestly, both books feel like and deserve to be future classics. Highly immersive historical novels and incredibly heart-warming they also incorporate a touch of cleverly written mystery.

When the War Came Home is a story so full of hope, determination, love, family and friendship. It utterly captivated me and had me reading into the wee small hours as I couldn’t bear to tear myself away from the idyllic Welsh countryside and the wonderfully warm, beautifully drawn cast of characters and their spirit and resilience.

It’s the twenties. The First World War has ended but as we see throughout the story, it hasn’t gone away and the after-effects live on in the hearts and minds of the people. Twelve year old Natty is forced to moved to a new village after her fiesty and fearless mother Ffion ruffles feathers at the factory and looses her job.

Natty’s mother has arranged for them to stay with Aunty Mary and Uncle Dewi in Ynysfach and Natty is mortified that she’ll be sharing a room, top-and-tailing with her goody-goody, same-age cousin Nerys. But she soon strikes up a remarkable friendship with seventeen year old cousin Huw who has recently returned from the front line in Belgium.

Huw can’t forget the terrible things he’s seen and in heart-breaking scenes, we see him suffer terrible shell shock but Lesley Parr skilfully and delicately explores the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in an a sensitive way for her Middle Grade audience. Natty instantly connects with Huw and he begins to confide in her. With gentle encouragement and patience, she learns that he’s grieving for his comrade and best mate, Rhys who died in the trenches.

Natty meets soldiers Johnny and Charles at the bowling pavilion where they are brought for daily recreation time from Talbot House; a convalescene home for injured servicemen. Young soldier Johnny is suffering from amnesia, brough on by the effects of the war and he can’t remember any details of his life before. His identity bracelet is damaged so The Ministry of Defence have been unable to trace his loved ones.

Natty is such an incredible character. Feeling like a lost soul herself, she instantly recognises the look behind Johnny’s eyes and from the moment she hears his story, she is determined to help him remember. Fearless and direct yet sensitive and caring, she has the ability to gain Johnny’s trust and he begins to open up to her. With her help, odd flashes and fragment of memories seem to appear but will it be enough?

Lesley’s writing style is effortless and the hours just glide by whilst reading her work. She creates characters that are so relatable and warm they instantly feel like family or old friends. I absolutely adore the Welsh back-drop to both Lesley’s books and my inner voice hears soft, lilting Welsh accents when reading.

Running alongside the main plot is a delightful side story about the children’s fight against poverty and campaign for free school meals. Inspired by suffragete Ffion and the formidable woman-of-the-time Emmeline Pankhurst, Natty, Nerys and classmate Owen (whose family struggle to make ends meet) stage a protest outside their school, much to the disgust of their evil tyrant headmaster and snotty local councillor. The innocent of childhood literally shines from every page and the children’s unfaltering belief in themselves is an utter joy to read!

There’s so much more I’m bursting to say but I wouldn’t want to risk spoiling others’ enjoyment of this glorious book. Thank you Lesley for another amazing story that I will cherish and will stay with me for years to come. I really enjoyed solving another anagram mystery too.

P.S. I love that Huddersfield gets a shout-out in the book!

When the War Came Home will be published on the 6th January 2022 by Bloomsbury.

If you haven’t already read The Valley of Lost Secrets, you absolutely must! I realised I didn’t write a post for this – I often find the books I enjoy the most the most difficult to write a review for.

Sometimes it’s hard to put into words just how good a book is to do it justice and The Valley of Lost Secrets is one of those books. Reminiscent of Goodnight Mister Tom and Carrie’s War, it deserves to be a future classic.

September 1939.

When Jimmy is evacuated to a small village in Wales, it couldn’t be more different from London. Green, quiet and full of strangers, he instantly feels out of place.

But then he finds a skull hidden in a tree, and suddenly the valley is more frightening than the war. Who can Jimmy trust? His brother is too little; his best friend has changed.

Finding an ally in someone he never expects, they set out together to uncover the secrets that lie with the skull. What they discover will change Jimmy – and the village – forever.

You can read a sneak preview of Chapter 1 at the end of When the War Came Home.

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