The Girl from Hard Times Hill
This is a quiet story although it turns out happily in the end. Any gloom, unfortunately, comes from the protagonist, Megan, who seems to see the worst in everything. First, her father returns home from WWII and she sees it as an annoying disruption to her own life – she’s forced to share a bedroom with her sister for heaven’s sake! – and then she gets a place at a grammar school and is resentful at the thought of having to leave her less bright best friend. Finally, she moves to a new town. And hates that, too (at first). Honestly, there’s no pleasing her.
I’m not sure a story works interestingly when the lead character is so passive and reluctant to change. We get quite a lot about roller-skating, and this becomes the opening that allows Megan to accept her father’s presence. Change is shown as difficult, but it can be exhilarating and still remain a challenge. The dialogue is rather stilted, and the writer seems to have a checklist of what makes a period novel: the platitudinous grandmother and her endless cuppas, the Princess Elizabeth cake tin, the dress coupons, the list of popular 1950s children’s fiction, the lines of washing in the working-class back yards, the lino – all reinforced by the nostalgic detail on the cover and, for me, too studied to convince. This is not helped by somewhat thin characterization throughout.
It’s the time for war stories, of course, and this fills a space, although I feel Megan is not a strong role model on how to welcome change. Grandmothers might give this to a grand-daughter as a sketch of what it was like for some in the 1950s.