In her latest piece of beautifully realised historical fiction, The Week at World’s End, author Emma Carroll brings the political turmoil of the early 1960s to life through the eyes of three children who are too young to recall life during the previous war but are old enough to fear the possibility of the next one.
Stevie Fisher is eleven years old and lives near her best friend, Ray Johnson, on World’s End Close in Devon. It’s a comfortably boring place to grow up but the lives of these two youngsters are turned upside down when they discover a runaway girl hiding in Stevie’s coal shed. She needs their help to escape from someone that she claims is trying to kill her. As Stevie and Ray try to find out more about this mysterious girl, it becomes clear that she is connected with a tragic secret from Stevie’s past.
Set against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the personal dramas of our main protagonists become increasingly entwined with the international events that are unfolding between America and the Soviet Union. Ray’s father works at the nearby American airbase and the reality of the impending war casts a dark shadow in their home. Stevie’s sister chooses to protest against the threat and is determined to make her voice heard no matter how unlikely it is to make an impact. Carroll skilfully presents the children’s perception of what is happening all around them and never devalues the importance of their feelings. Although the adults try to hide the true scale of the threat of nuclear war, they cannot conceal their own anxieties or protect the children from the news headlines. They are old enough to understand what is going on and Stevie and Ray channel their efforts into something they can control, helping their new friend. They are forced to face their own fears about the future, but their kindness, loyalty and bravery gives them the chance to make a difference closer to home.
Historical details are present in every corner of this book. From the trips outside to fill the coal bucket to the sound of The Beatles blasting from the radio, the tiniest moments set the scene and bring the 60s to life. Carroll also paints a much broader picture and sets the political stage not just with events relating to the nuclear standoff but gives her characters opportunity to react to the actions of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. It’s a strikingly unusual period in which to set a historical novel but it shows that the 60s are far too underused and the period offers a wealth of topics that are as significant today as they were then.
This wonderful novel is an exciting and heart-warming tale of friendship and family. Nuclear war is a dark subject matter for a children’s book but Carroll’s ability to create vivid characters who can find the light in even the bleakest moments makes The Week at World’s End a great story for readers of all ages.
Thank you to Faber Children’s Books for sending a proof copy for review purposes.
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