Valentine Joe

Written by Rebecca Stevens
Review by Cassandra Clark

A time-slip novel featuring a modern teenager and events from the First World War published that such a war ‘must never happen again.’

Lively and likeable, 15-year-old Rose accompanies her grandfather to Ypres so that he can visit his uncle’s grave on the war’s 100th anniversary. I don’t want to spoil the story, so you might not want to read any further, but the central plot device involves the ghost of a real life boy-soldier killed in the trenches a month before his 16th birthday. Rose soon finds herself back in the Belgium of the last century and, with his ghostly help, learns about the everyday heroism and tragic waste of life of youthful volunteers such as himself. He helps her see how she might come to terms with the grief of losing someone you love.

Both strands of the story are equally strong. Rose’s own father has recently died, and her mother is unreachable in her sorrow, with the result that the teenager feels very much alone. Not that she doesn’t have friends she can text – but they have not suffered her loss and cannot understand.

The author tells us that her interest was aroused by discovering letters from her own grandfather serving at the Front and later by the true story of a real life boy-soldier, Valentine Joe Strudwick, who volunteered, as did so many, when he was still underage, and was killed before he reached the official age for joining up.

Such is the strength and compassion in the writing that this is not a miserable read but an inspiration. It shows that despite war there is a way of surviving grief’s aftermath with enough shared love and understanding. Highly recommended.