Monday 24 April 2023


Book review: Carrie's War by Nina Bawden (50th Anniversary Edition)

I read a lot of classics growing up and I particularly loved the children's ones. Think Treasure Island, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Heidi. But there are some iconic books that didn't make it to the Netherlands, or at least not to my local library. Charlotte's Web is one I keep meaning to pick up and Carrie's War is another. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the publication of Carrie's War, Virago Books has released a stunning new hardback edition of the book, and I was lucky enough to be send a copy for review. 

When the Second World War hits London, Carrie and her little brother, Nick, are sent to the countryside in Wales. She ends up living with Councillor Samuel Isaac Evans, who owns a grocery shop in the village, and his sister, whom they amicably call Auntie Lou. Mr Evans is a difficult man, quick to irritate, and with unreasonable expectations of the children, such as them not using the stairs during the day to not wear out the carpet and instead do their business outside. Even his sister is too afraid to stand up to him. 

Yet, despite the harsh rules of living in Mr Evans' house, Carrie and Nick are well-taken care of. They're fed, they have their own room and, most of all, they make friends with the people living in Mr Evans' other sister's house: fellow evacuee Albert Sandwich, housekeeper Hepzibah Green, and Mister Johnny; a simple man who can only speak in gurgling sounds. 

To Carrie and Nick it seems as if Albert has hit the jackpot. He's living with kind people who let him be free to do as he wishes (mainly reading books from the library). But even this household has its problems. Mr Evans' sister is very ill and it doesn't look like she'll get better. And if she passes away, where will Hepzibah, Mister Johnny and Albert go? 

I really enjoyed Carrie's War. While it's set amidst the Second World War, there is a certain level of disconnect from the bombings and fighting as it takes place in rural Wales. This gives readers a glimpse into some of the affects of the war on day-to-day life, from children being far away from their parents to rationing. People became incredibly adaptable and despite being ripped away from their mother and everything they've ever known, Carrie and Nick just get on with life. They try to settle as best as they can in their new home (all while avoiding getting on the wrong side of Mr Evans!). 

Author Nina Bawden uses very simple storytelling to effectively show how quickly children at the time had to grow up. Carrie and Nick were only 12 and 10 years old for the majority of the book, and yet they're expected to seamlessly start their new lives in Wales, while continuing to go to school and also help out in the grocery store. Carrie in particular is feeling a huge sense of responsibility, both to her younger brother and the new people in her life. 

And while Carrie doesn't express her feelings and concerns as it happens, as we hear the story of her time in Wales from her perspective many years later, it's fascinating (and heart-breaking) to learn how deeply this new-found responsibility affected her. She has carried a huge burden with her into adulthood, and while this wasn't directly caused by bombs or enemy soldiers, it's equally one of the many ways in which the immense horrors of a war affect people on a fundamental level – especially those in their formative years. 

Despite Carrie's War being a book set during a war (the clue is in the title), there were also beautiful and uplifting moments in the story showing the very best of people. Hepzibah in particular is such a force for good and kindness, and she really shone through on the pages (particularly in stark contrast to Mr Evans). And even Aunty Lou, despite her timid demeanour, created light in the darkness for the children when they needed it the most. 

I'm really glad I finally read this classic tale, and such a beautiful addition at that. I'm not usually one to gravitate towards war stories, but Carrie's War is so much more than that. At its heart it's a coming-of-age novel about friendship, acceptance, and helping each other. And kindness, even in the most simplest of forms, can give people the strength to continue on even when times are incredibly dire. 

The beautiful new 50th anniversary edition of Carrie's War by Nina Bawden is published by Virago and you can now buy a copy from your favourite local book shop!

Disclaimer: This book was gifted to me by the publisher, but this has not impacted this honest review.

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