Yours From the Tower

Written by Sally Nicholls
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

1896, various British locations. Three 17-year-old girls leave school and embark on Life. Tirzah has had a turbulent childhood; her mother is an alcoholic and usually in debt. Tirzah now lives with her strict, unloving grandmother, whom she hates, and has grown up, in modern terms, neurotic and dangerously impulsive. Sophia’s wealthy Aunt Eliza is giving her a Season; Sophia is expected to land a rich husband who will pay for her younger sisters’ schooling, and ensure that they, in turn, will make advantageous marriages. In the previous generation, Aunt Eliza had sacrificed herself this way, but Sophia’s heart is already taken – and he is not rich. Polly teaches children in an orphanage for a pittance.

As the girls exchange letters, we gradually realize that their ‘ladies’ education won’t support them financially – they’ll all need to find husbands. The correspondence gradually expands as various young men enter the story and the girls struggle to face the challenges of the adult world.

US coverI loved Yours from the Tower, which reminded me of one of my favourite childhood books, An Old-Fashioned Girl (1870) by Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women. What impressed me was that all Nicholls’ characters have genuine late 19th-century mindsets, with moral standards which are important to them; the young men’s concern for the girls’ reputations, for example. There is a lot of emotion in the book but no explicit sex.

Nicholls asks the teenage reader to make an imaginative leap back 125+ years to enter what may feel like an alien and unnecessarily restricted world, and I was worried whether it might not be too quiet, or labelled ‘boring’ for today’s young adults. In my view, it’s well worth the effort; Sally Nicholls transports readers to a very different world and holds them gripped.