We weren’t supposed to be going to the pictures that night. We weren’t even meant to be outside, not in a blackout, and definitely not when German bombs had been falling on London all month like pennies from a jar.
February, 1941. After months of bombing raids in London, twelve-year-old Olive Bradshaw and her little brother Cliff are evacuated to the Devon coast. The only person with two spare beds is Mr Ephraim, the local lighthouse keeper. But he’s not used to company and he certainly doesn’t want any evacuees.
Desperate to be helpful, Olive becomes his post-girl, carrying secret messages (as she likes to think of the letters) to the villagers. But Olive has a secret of her own. Her older sister Sukie went missing in an air raid, and she’s desperate to discover what happened to her. And then she finds a strange coded note which seems to link Sukie to Devon, and to something dark and impossibly dangerous.
After being caught in an air-raid and the disappearance of their elder sister, Olive and Cliff are evacuated to Devon, where they are sent to stay with a strange lighthouse keeper. The villagers are full of secrets, and Olive is determined to uncover them.
This middle-grade novel slowly unravels an intricate mystery and captures the tragedy of the refugee crisis, both back during WWII and in the present day. Its variety of characters has you constantly wondering who knows what- Ephraim, the discrete lighthouse keeper and his secret control room, sharp-tongued Queenie, fierce evacuee Esther, with whom Olive just cannot get on, and Sukie, Olive’s wild older sister who’s nowhere to be found. I especially loved the characterisation of Olive and Esther and their precarious relationship. They were easy to imagine- Olive, grieving for her father, sensible and determined to protect Cliff; Esther, whose anger seems to be hiding sadness and vulnerability. Equally beautiful was the love between Olive and her brother.
Wartime descriptions and period sayings like “the cat’s pyjamas” made the setting authentic. Each chapter was headed with a slogan from WWII, which I thought was a nice touch. The overall message is that love and compassion beat hatred and bigotry, and the world is as much in need of this message today as it was back in Hitler’s era.
“There were thirty-two refugees in total: thirty-two wet, frightened, exhausted people, who’d travelled through a storm in a sailing boat meant to hold ten. How awful their lives back home must’ve been to take such a risk.”
I did find the plot a little confusing at some points, and had to go back and check I’d got it right. Despite this, it moves at a gentle pace (not a bad thing), is full of moving scenes and reads like a classic. A timeless piece of historical fiction for children.
I don’t think a book could contain a more important message than the one spoken by Letters from the Lighthouse , and it’s weaved beautifully throughout the novel. It links current events to past tragedies and is a warning to us all to not let history repeat itself. Your children need to read it.