The Skylarks' War Hardcover – 20 Sep 2018
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Hilary McKay’s novel is about love as much as war: the effect on children of being deprived of it and the beneficial results on adults of its persistence. McKay is incapable of writing an uninteresting character or a dull scene... I loved it. (Mary Hoffman Mary Hoffman)
A timeless story of love, loss and growing up that already feels like a classic. (Fiona Noble The Observer)
McKay is at her best in this poignant family drama. (The Guardian)
Picking up a book by Hilary McKay is like slipping on bed socks on a chilly night. She knows how to look after her readers by ensuring that her characters are interesting and loveable from the start . . . McKay’s cleverness is that she makes it all fresh and new while making these beautifully drawn characters feel like old friends. (The Times, Children’s Book of the Week)
This belongs among the classic of children’s literature . . . Funny, sad, warm, it is about growing up and finding what you love, intellectually and emotionally. (The Sunday Times, Children’s Book of the Week)
This book is agony and ecstasy, and never have I read such a human and accessible account of World War I. Vivid, hilarious, and heartbreaking, Hilary McKay’s radiant characters touch my heart like real people, friends and loved ones I know well. Possibly the finest writer of our time. (Elizabeth Wein, New York Times-bestselling author of Code Name Verity and The Pearl Thief)
This is McKay at her finest, all the heart and warmth of the Casson family books - with a touch of the Cazalets. It's both a thrilling family adventure and a truthful, heart-breaking examination of the impact of war... [an] exceptional historical novel. (Fiona Noble Bookseller, Children's Book of the Month)
Hilary McKay is surely the heir to Mary Wesley. The Skylarks' War is just lovely. (Charlotte Eyre, The Bookseller)
The Skylarks' War is bloody brilliant, the kind of classic that rings with beauty and conviction and heart-stopping emotion. Not read a novel this good since Eva Ibbotson died. (Amanda Craig)
Hilary McKay is one of the great writers of children’s fiction and this story of love and loss during the First World War is one of her best, told with unflinching wisdom. (Sarah Hughes Independent, Best Children's Books for Autumn 2018)
An evocative and heartbreaking novel of family and friendship in wartime from Hilary McKay, award-winning author of the Casson Family Chronicles.See all Product description
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The Skylarks' War begins with the main character, Clary, being born as her mother dies. Her father brings up her and her older brother Peter with an air of lazy indifference, and a selfish need for his authority over them to be recognised regardless of whether it's earned. Because of this, both children become very independent and capable, supporting and encouraging of each other, and rely on each other in one of the most lovely sibling relationships I've ever read. Of course, like all children, they have their arguments and moods. But ultimately their closeness gets them through everything that comes against them. I especially loved seeing Peter encouraging his little sister's education throughout their childhood and teenage years.
As the story progresses, it's a simple pleasure to learn more about this family, their community and the friends they make, and follow the children as they grow up, go to school, get in trouble, make and break friendships. One of the central events every year in the children's lives is visiting their grandparents in Cornwall during the summer holidays, where their older cousin Rupert also comes to stay. Robert is the highlight of both Clary and Peter's summers, with his easy charm, charisma, adventurous spirit, and abundant kindness towards others, and his impact isn't only limited to the siblings but others he encounters, too. But when Rupert leaves school and enlists in the army shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, the family suddenly feels splintered without him but must carry on and believe he'll survive. Meanwhile, Rupert is struggling with his own feelings towards his family and their expectations of him, and his experiences in the war.
McKay packs so much detail into such a small book, but it all feels wonderfully paced and never too much or too little. She writes about everyday people with so much sensitivity, that even secondary and background characters step on and off the page, returning to their lives behind the scenes whenever they aren't present in a scene. The children's neglectful father reminded me so much of my own father's unchanging would-rather-not attitude towards parenthood that the children's feelings towards him and his lack of interest in them was easily relatable. Clary and Peter also have a number of friends, and characters such as their grandparents and their neighbours are all carefully drawn into the story, very much in the way of real life. I loved every single one of them. As such, this book feels less like a story and more a journey through childhood. The ending is perfect, leaving us not with a concrete 'The End', but the resolute sense that these characters will continue on with their lives and find happiness wherever they can, through the hard times and the good.
As well as such a personal and emotional story, this novel is also packed with lots of period detail about the era, and themes that are subtly explored with a natural simplicity I really appreciated - nothing felt overt or forced in, and some things might not even be picked up by young readers until a reread later in life. Disability, privilege, survivor's guilt, abandonment, prejudice, sexuality, PTSD, depression, sexism, and numerous other themes all contribute to a well-rounded and depthful story. And despite the impact of war, it's an uplifting story that would be perfect for classrooms across the world.