Well I’ve been churned about and pulled every which way and now I’m not sure how to feel!
Shelter is about a spirited young woman escaping bombed-out Coventry in WWII to work as a lumberjill within a reclusive community in the Forest of Dean. She is nursing a secret and running from a tragic past, including a life-defining decision publishers say “will resonate with so many readers.”
Publishing 27 July 2017 by Zaffre (Bonnier Zaffre)
First I thought it was a WW2 story, then I thought it was a romance, then I thought it was a story about the power of motherhood and then I thought it was a book specifically designed to toy with my delicate emotions. Sarah Franklin’s Shelter is all this and more.
I was drawn to this title mostly because I’m fascinated by the way women worked during the second world war. There’s that wonderful photo of the Queen when she was fixing Jeeps during wartime – it’s the best picture of the Queen. If you’re looking to find out more about Lumberjills then I wouldn’t say this is an informative book, the setting is not written to educate but rather to set up the unlikely meeting of these various characters. Nevertheless, as an introduction to what I might discover if I looked further into it, this was pretty cool.
Let’s talk about characters shall we? Connie, our main female character is fascinating to me. Her struggles with what she wants to get out of life and how she deals with them are possibly the most heart wrenching element in the whole book. This is perhaps the strongest element of this title, so many books written about women in wartime seek either to totally idealise them into amazing pin curled hard working perfect mothers pining nobly for their husbands, alternatively they are hardworking women who abscond all traditionally ‘feminine’ traits in favour of the new opportunities which wartime affords them. Franklin has managed to meld these two extremes into a character who is actually believable and though she is far from perfect, you come to love her all the same. It feels very like Austen’s Emma at times, in that you want to reach in through the pages, give her a hug and tell her to stop making such silly decisions.
Seppe, by contrast, is an Italian prisoner of war housed in a camp nearby to where Connie is staying. These two are similar in that both of them are searching for a place where they feel they belong. Seppe is perhaps slightly less ‘believable’ than Connie at times, maybe I just don’t believe in men as lovely as Seppe *sigh*.
A whole host of supporting characters: Amos, Joyce, and Frank to name a few, make for a delightful read. The love of these characters is the real constant in this title which has a tendency to put the reader through an emotional ringer every five minutes.
This book was a delightful and moving story of the struggles of losing ones identity and having to find it in unfamiliar places with unlikely individuals. It speaks of permanence (and a lack of it) in a way that makes this girl away from home feel a little teary.
One of the most enjoyable things about this book is that for the majority of the time I genuinely couldn’t work out how it was going to end. Since pretty much everything I’ve been reading recently has been decipherable by around the halfway mark it was phenomenal to have a book that actually surprised me. Franklin’s writing is unpredictable but in the best possible way. You won’t be bored reading Shelter.
So while I might have wanted a little bit more ‘badass lady lumberjacks’ I think this was an amazing read. Not my usual fantastical fare but all the same – well worth my time.
By the way: I received a digital ARC copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.