A Skull in Shadows Lane
1946, England. Jinty, age eleven, and her ten-year-old brother, Josh, live in the sleepy village of Coney Cley where nothing ever happens. Or so they think – until the day they decide to explore Shadows Lane and the abandoned Cornflower Cottage, which is rumoured to be haunted. But it isn’t until they see a living skull in an upstairs window that they realize that the rumours are true. Someone, or something, is hiding there. The children unearth a secret which they must keep hidden at all costs.
This is a terrific book. I read it at a sitting and couldn’t put it down. I can quite see why it was short-listed for the Historical Association’s Young Quills Award. The period detail is one hundred percent convincing without being intrusive. And, much more difficult to achieve, the post-war mindset is just right, too. For example, the more formal relationships between pupils and teachers are nicely caught; not to mention the greater freedom for children – no health and safety concerns to stop them doing things which nowadays might be considered too dangerous. And the language is accurate, too; there are no anachronisms.
Swindells has judged his young readers’ psychology exactly; how much being frightened they can take (and it’s very scary in places), how to present the truth about concentration camps in an age appropriate way, and so on. I was also impressed by the relationships between the gang of boys; there’s the ‘swot’ who has to cope with being bullied; the boys egging each other on with dares to do things which they then can’t get out of without losing face.
It is an excellent book to look into the austerities of post-war Britain, as well as looking at the darker side of war. Highly recommended for children of 9+.