Our Castle by the Sea
For 12-year-old Pet, normal is "living in a lighthouse" with her Pa, sister Mags and German-born mother, Mutti. But the start of World War II, with Hitler's army "surging up through France," is not an easy time to live in England and have a mother from Germany. Insults are hurled and Mutti is blamed for acts of sabotage in the nearby village. When "a package of information and drawings" is "intercepted... on its way to Germany," Mutti is taken away to live in an internment camp with other "enemy aliens." Mags convinces Pet they should "find out who the real spy is," and their first guess is the "nasty old" recluse living on the nearby south cliff, Spooky Joe. But before they can do much investigating, Mags's odd behavior--she's been getting into fistfights with Kipper Briggs and sneaking around with "handsome Michael Baron"--causes a rift between the sisters. Pet feels her entire family slipping away, and it falls to her to be brave enough to make sense of a very complicated world.
Lucy Strange's (The Secret of Nightingale Wood) second middle-grade work features elegant prose and an enchanting protagonist. Pet is earnest and unwavering, and the "small, mousy, and unimportant" girl at the beginning of the story is quite different from the strong young woman who emerges by the end. Her kinship with the Daughters of Stone--mythical girls who sacrificed themselves for the safe return of their fishermen fathers--lends a timeless, haunting quality to the story, and endows it with the weight of legend. The message that everyday friends, "people from church, the village shopkeepers and fishermen," can easily turn into an angry, frightened mob is especially timely. This haunting, historical novel is sure to touch young readers' hearts. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI