A Sister’s Wish by Donna Douglas – During the Blitz of Hull, family relationships are strained

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.  

A Mother’s Journey by Donna Douglas – a new and lively wartime saga set in Hull

 

A new saga series set in Hull, 1940, is a good thing, and this immensely readable book is a wonderful first book. A young woman, Edie, makes her way along Jubilee Row, struggling with a big suitcase. She has a secret, but those observing her are intrigued by where she is headed. Two families, the Maguires and the Scuttles, are dominated by strong women who pride themselves on their involvement with and knowledge of  the streets of their area. They know that Edie is going to be sharing a house with Patience, who has many issues. There are daughters of both families who have had to learn to live without their husbands, for the war is affecting everyone. The shelters are well used. Two brothers, Charlie and Sam, have very different experiences, as some are still affected by a previous war. Meanwhile Joyce is enduring a marriage which has turned to abuse, and worries about her son Alan. 

 

This a book that examines through the eyes of people immersed in the changes and challenges of war. It introduces and develops the stories of individuals and a community brought together by adverse circumstances in a lively and engaging way. I was really pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.

 

Edie’s story is a common one, as she recalls her lost love Rob, an RAF officer who was killed over France.  Her pregnancy is going to become obvious shortly, but her stepmother Rose still ensured that she had no home elsewhere. The two residents of the ground floor of the house, Patience and Horace, have a sadness of their own, and Patience is keen to preserve her home as a sanctuary. Meanwhile, young widow Iris is aware of her life long friend Sam’s interest in her, but cannot begin to think of anyone else after Arthur’s death. Edie has to discover the truth about those around her as she tries to establish herself in her new surroundings, and the reader too can be surprised and intrigued by the various people in the area. As Joyce finds daily challenges her story is particularly affecting, and many issues about the lack of choice for married women at the time are well explored. There is also closeness demonstrated between some people which is positive, although in every encounter there is the sense of threat from a war which is in the background. 

 

I really enjoyed this book as a really lively and well paced read. There is a drive as the characters reveal much about their previous lives, and the revelations are well paced against a background of air raids and the real impact of war. I found this book immensely readable and it kept me wondering about the truth about each character; there are moments of real suspense deliberately created and well played out.  I was genuinely taken by surprise by some of the revelations which emerged. This is a saga which keeps moving and developing as the reality of life in Hull is revealed. There is a lot of research here that is well written into the story, it never holds up the flow of the narrative. I recommend this lively book with plenty of drama and human interest.