Hell and High Water

Written by Tanya Landman
Review by Valerie Loh

England, 1752. Caleb, a boy of mixed race, is deserted when his loving father, a puppeteer, is wrongly accused of being a thief and is sentenced to transportation to the Colonies. Left scared and alone, Caleb follows his father’s wishes and carries their Punch and Judy show with him to find his timid aunt who lives in Devon. There, Caleb begins a new life in his aunt’s home, shared with the headstrong and capable Letty. From an initial distrust, Caleb and Letty’s friendship begins to grow.

This is a beautifully written, fast-paced novel. Issues of ignorance, corruption and bigotry are revealed in all their ugliness throughout the story. Caleb is brave yet sensitive as well as talented with a needle. Letty has an equally determined character, combined with the strength and ability to skilfully row a boat, understanding the sea and the tides. Together they complement each other well as they leave his aunt behind to pursue the truth and reveal injustice.

The Punch and Judy show is an important thread in this novel. The detail is written in such a way that you can easily visualise the scenes as they are played out from the audience’s perspective as well as the effort and talent needed by the puppeteer.

This engaging tale is intriguing. It is brilliant in the portrayal of the period and the corruption and inequality that controlled everyday existence for many. In Caleb and Letty I discovered two engaging characters with whom I empathised and I was delighted with the ending of their story. I would definitely recommend the novel. For 12 plus.