In Lesley Parr’s latest middle grade novel, When The War Came Home, the impact of the First World War continues to cast a shadow over the lives of children and adults in rural Wales in the years after it ended.
Natty and her mother, Ffion, have settled into their special routine of a chippy tea in their little flat above the ironmongers every Friday night. Natty has a new coat and enjoys the free dinners she gets at school. But when Ffion loses her factory job because she stands up for the rights of a colleague, everything changes and they are forced to move away.
In their new village Natty must share a room with her cousin Nerys, go to a school where her teacher is unafraid of using the cane, and go home for lunch because there are no free school meals. But the new arrivals are not the only ones who have to adapt and soon their presence starts to influence changes within the village. Nerys quicky becomes swept up in her aunt’s enthusiasm for helping others and wants to learn about unions and strikes. It is this struggle to make things better for each other that lies at the very heart of When The War Came Home.
Even though the war is over, the damage it did is still present and, at the local auxiliary hospital, soldiers are recovering from the physical and mental trauma of the battlefields. But the effect of the war isn’t just felt around the outskirts of the village. It is present on the farm where Natty’s cousin Huw is scarred by the events of the Battle of Passchendaele and the loss of a close friend. She becomes determined to help these wounded young men even though they have experienced something she could never imagine.
When The War Came Home is written in the first person and the reader experiences everything from Natty’s perspective. Her relationship with her mother is wonderfully realised and we feel all the complexities of such a loving relationship, even when they fight and become frustrated with each other. Natty’s compassion towards others and determination to help them unites her with not only her mother and cousin, but with the majority of characters in the book. Parr shows that when people come together, even if they are still at school, they can make good things happen.
This book is a wonderful way to introduce young readers to really important issues including workers’ rights, poverty, votes for women and shellshock. It shows how trade unions and the welfare state improved the lives of real people. When The War Came Home is a powerful and moving (I sobbed at the end) story that incorporates so much and is a great addition to the bookshelf of any classroom that wants to discuss the years between the First and Second World War.
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