A Sister’s Wish by Donna Douglas
Hull in the spring of 1941 was a dangerous place to be, and in this novel by the experienced writer Donna Douglas no one knows that better than Iris. She has lost her three year old daughter Lucy and the best friend who had been caring for her, Dolly. As she returns to Jubilee Row from hospital after a long stay she is terrified of returning home, not because of the heavy bombing but because of the memories that will be all around her. As she is greeted by her extended family and neighbours she is unable to cope, unable to meet with their expectations. This rich and multi-layered story of a complex family trying to survive amid the horrors of total war is full of characters who all have their own challenges and fears. While they mainly live very close to each other, there are details of other parts of Hull that were damaged, streets that almost disappeared and landmarks that were affected. Besides the impressive cast of characters, Douglas has completed a lot of research into conditions in Hull and the main raids that scarred the area, but the research is never allowed to slow the narrative. The characters are vibrant and seem real, each one having their own part to play. This is a novel that I enjoyed reading very much, and found engaging throughout. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this compelling book.
As Iris’ family prepare for her arrival at home, there is a subtle introduction to the people who have been waiting for her return. This includes her two remaining children, a baby Kitty, and nine year old Archie who has strong memories of his younger sister and Dolly, the friend who was looking after them. He feels guilty for not looking after her more, and will be challenged by someone who criticizes him for his reaction to the trauma. Edie has been the subject of a previous novel, but her story in this book is self explanatory.Left alone by the man she loved, she is now concentrating on Bobby as the focus of her love, even though a good friend would welcome the company of another single parent. It is Ruby, capable and happy to support anyone, that has to cope with horrible memories of her past when her most difficult relationship is challenged. As Big May Maguire tries to hold her family together in the face of the most destructive bombing Hull has faced, real shelter is difficult to find.
This is a deeply absorbing book which is difficult to put down, as the relationships in a complex group of family, friends and neighbours is severely challenged. As relationships are affected by loss, everyone must reassess what they truly feel, as the most surprising people show a determination and courage previously unsuspected. One of the main stories, of Ruby and her younger sister Pearl is very involving, as loyalties, love and a life-long role of caring is shaken. Douglas has tremendous confidence in her characters, and places them in settings which prove testing in so many ways. Her understanding of their feelings for a place transformed by bombers is touching, as it is not only the physical injuries they must cope with in this emotionally realistic novel. This a wartime story set in a place which suffered sustained bombing is different from other sagas in its handling of a true community of characters in a relatively small place. I recommend it for its understanding not only of adult reactions to a nearly impossible time, but also a sensitive handling of the trauma suffered by children.