When I Was Young

Written by Mary Fitzgerald
Review by Cathy Kemp

Sixteen-year-old Eleanor has been given the opportunity to travel to the Loire Valley on French-language exchange in the 1950s. Coming from a remote farm in Yorkshire, Eleanor’s mother has been an austere parent whose priorities lie in running the farm and managing Eleanor’s father, a casualty from the Second World War, with equal distance. On her arrival with her host family, Eleanor is met with indifference and hostility in a setting which exudes beauty and tranquillity. In her struggle to overcome these obstacles, she discovers herself as a valued being, capable of love and maturity beyond her previous experiences. Alongside her discoveries of the hidden secrets within her host family, Eleanor has also to contend with information relating to her parents’ change in circumstances in her absence, which has life-changing consequences for her.

Tangible throughout this book are the after-effects of war within families and small communities on both sides of the channel. The destruction wreaked by the War was in effect for many years after peace treaties were signed and the individuals affected were scarred beyond outward appearances. But I feel that this story lets the reader down with the lack of depth of the characters’ responses, for example, where Eleanor is supposedly falling in love with Etienne and developing a physical relationship with him.