I've really been getting into reading more children's books again lately, not in the least thanks to the stunning The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, published by Chicken House Books earlier this year. So when the same publisher reached out to me to tell me about The Secret of Nightingale Wood I couldn't have been more excited to read it. The novel sounded like a future children's classic in the making, along the lines of The Secret Garden and The Railway Children.
It is 1919 when 12-year-old Henrietta is left to fend for her family, because after the death of Henry's brother her mother took to bed and stopped taking care of them. And her father, unable to cope with the loss of his son and, for all intents and purposes, his wife too, leaves for a job abroad. So it's just Henry and Nanny keeping an eye on her baby sister, Piglet.
Henry loves Piglet and with her parents being absent she feels protective of her little sister. But when a doctor who keeps checking up on Henry's mother wants to take her mother away to an institution and is even speaking of taking Piglet away as well, Henry is determined to bring her family back together. She isn't alone in her mission, as her brother still feels very close to her and when she spots a light deep into the forest at the back of her house, she starts wondering if Robert has returned to help her out...
The Secret of Nightingale Wood is a moving story set just after the First World War and painfully highlights the way mental health issues were dealt with at the time. The to 21st Century readers backwards thinking about gender and the supposed weaknesses of the woman mind was a tough read at times. The male perspective made me so angry but it also made me appreciate how far we've come (even though we haven't reached full equality even so many years later).
And to have, amid all that darkness, such a feisty, adventurous girl as the protagonist was an absolute delight. Henry's spirit and sense of righteousness was in stark contrast to that of the adults surrounding her, and I was rooting for her from the start. There were so many adversities thrown her way, from the loss of her brother to the inability of the adults to be kind and fair to her, and yet she never lost hope or courage to change everything for the better. She is a real inspiration to children reading the book. Even though Henry's story takes place almost a century ago, there is still plenty for kids, and adults, to relate to.
The Secret of Nightingale Wood was an exciting adventure, a painful eye-opener and a beautiful story about one girl determined to make her family whole again, all in one magical package.
Many thanks to the publisher for a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.
The Secret of Nightingale Wood is published by Chicken House and you can buy your copy from Foyles or your own preferred retailer.
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