Wave Me Goodbye
‘To be a successful human being, you need to be in touch with other people’s feelings’, Jaqueline Wilson said recently about promoting empathy through reading. Her latest novel is a master class in doing just that.
We are swept into the mind-set of ten-year-old Shirley who wakes to the discovery she’s going ‘on holiday’ that very day. Slowly, the truth dawns. Her mum isn’t coming with her. But everyone from her scruffy school is leaving home and going to—well, nobody knows where the train from Victoria is heading….
With her gas mask and name label, Shirley joins the crush of London evacuees in September, 1939. There is a wide cast of characters—convent girls in tunics, Cockney kids with nits, and village host-families from every class background. Wilson is in her element as she moves from astutely observed surface impressions to a slow reveal of what lies buried in people’s personal stories. Shirley is lodged, along with jug-eared Kevin, in a large house with a reclusive host—Mrs Waverley. As she struggles to give and get emotional solace herself, Shirley also discovers how past traumas have affected others.
This is a long, complete and absorbing read. It establishes a number of story-lines which leads me to hope we may see more of Shirley’s war. What it achieves, most gloriously, is to transport the reader utterly into the language, attitudes and preoccupations of another era. From the moment Shirley’s aspirational mum shoves her into the carriage reserved for posh girls, to the subtle revelations about Mrs Waverley’s past (with echoes of Lady Chatterley), the sense of living in a time of different manners and social codes is handled exquisitely. With the smell of Lifebuoy soap still strong in my nose, I totally recommend this for readers of 9+.