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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)
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)
Hilary McKay is a genius. This beautiful book is so many things simultaneously: complex and subtle, beautiful and raw, timely and timeless. I never wanted it to end. (Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, Carnegie-shortlisted author of The Smell of Other People's Houses)
One of my favourite books of the year, this is McKay at her absolute finest. (Fiona Noble Bookseller Children's Buyer Guide, Highlights of the Season)
I laughed, I cried and I wanted all the characters to be my best friend (Natasha Farrant)
Winning as ever, with an overall Secret Garden feel (Kirkus Reviews)
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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Clarry's birth coincides with her mother's death, and her father, who only misses out on tyranny through indifference, thinks it's a shame she didn't depart along with the wife he's too selfish to mourn. Somehow Clarry holds on and, along with her brother Peter, is half-brought up by a series of well meaning neighbours, housekeepers and, in the summer, they head to Cornwall and her grandparents and adored older cousin, Rupert. Peter at least is given an education - although the threat of boarding school hangs heavily over him - but Clarry is sent instead to two elderly women who barely teach her to sew let alone think. Not that she lets that stop her...
There is so much packed into the book it feels like it should be a whole series. We follow Clarry from birth to womanhood and yet no part of her life feels hurried through. Like any book that starts in the early 1900s there's a sense of inevitability, a knowledge of the upheaval about to hit the children as they reach adulthood and yet when the war comes it's as shocking to us as it is for them.
This is a wonderful book filled with unforgettable characters, the kind of characters that seem to exist outside the pages. Clarry and Peter, Rupert, their friends Vanessa and Simon, Miss Vane and Mrs Morgan and Mr King. The Streatfield comparisons are deserved, more Vicarage Family Streatfield (my favourite kind) than Ballet Shoes although the Fossils would have found a kindred spirit in Clarry.
The Skylarks' War deserves to win every award going but more than that it deserves to be read, to be on every bookshelf of every bookworm throughout the land. It's not a modern day classic. It's a classic.
The reader follows two siblings, their cousin and friends. We get to know them intimately. We like them and care about their outcomes. We watch as they grow and develop before becoming embroiled in war. Their idyllic childhood summers contrast with the battlefields of World War I. War effects those at home and at the Front. Lies are told to keep spirits high. What purpose would it serve to reveal the true horrors of war? The reader gets caught up in the patriotic fervour as we witness the preparations of parcels and letters.
Massive changes occurred during the first part of the twentieth century, not least the role of women. Ironically it would be World War I that helped to advance the cause and voice of women. Clarry's desire for an education resulted in an amusing exchange with her father. " 'Why on earth would you want that type of education?' 'To learn things.'... 'What would be the point?' asked her truly baffled father."
Boys were sent to boarding school, an institution that made or broke them. The reader glimpses the loneliness and also the camaraderie of the boys bonding over tuck. It was very reminiscent of my girlhood reads of Enid Blyton's Mallory Towers. Bonds formed in youth survive.
In spite of being considerably older than ten, I really enjoyed The Skylarks War. Hilary McKay has really caught the atmosphere of the time and the horrors of war. The whole period really comes alive. I think The Skylarks War should be studied by year seven and eight in schools as part of the national curriculum. I would love to see The Skylarks War turned into a film - any BBC producers out there, please take note.
An absolutely cracking read.
I received this book for free from Net Galley. A favourable review was not required and all views expressed are my own.
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