Starting Over

Written by Jack Sheffield
Review by Cathy Kemp

At the start of the academic year 1952-53, Ragley village school has an intake of pupils sufficient to warrant a second full-time teacher. The new incumbent, Lily Briggs, will be responsible for the younger children, as Headmaster John Pruett will continue the education for eight- to eleven-year-olds. The children become attached to Miss Briggs, are relieved that she doesn’t favour physical punishment, and respond well to her enthusiasm for sharing her knowledge with them. But Lily has a deep secret that threatens her new life in Yorkshire, and as her relationship with local bobby, Tom Feather, develops she worries that her security will be at risk.

Sheffield’s descriptive passages follow the changing seasons as the school year progresses, immersing us in a bygone era where fast food was fish and chips from a mobile van once a week, and entertainment was a trip to the cinema to catch up with the weekly Pathé news and a film. He gently introduces some of the technological advances from this period, especially the huge increase in the number of televisions hired or bought for the home in expectation of watching the coronation of Queen Elizabeth on a screen of eight square inches. The characters are easily identifiable by their traits, and the eccentricities of individuals are celebrated, sharing the feeling of a close community with the reader. Sheffield is an accomplished author, and each book he completes is perfectly readable independently, though more satisfying when read chronologically.