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On the eve of her 13th birthday, Hazel Mull-Dare is precocious and feisty, but her sheltered background in London as the daughter of a business man ‘in Sugar’, has left her ignorant of much of what is happening in the world, and in particular of the impact of the suffragette movement. Her innocence is shaken by the sight of a suffragette trampled by a horse at the races, a friendship with an older and much more worldly school companion, and the impact of her father’s failing business interests, all of which make her question what is happening around her. Her mother is Ivy, the protagonist of Hearn’s last novel, who has ‘married up’, but who is more concerned with her rescued dogs than with her daughter, and who, following a family crisis, sends Hazel off to her paternal grandparents on their sugar plantation in the Caribbean. Here Hazel is confronted with more matters she does not fully understand, but which she determines to unravel.
Hazel is an entertaining, fast-moving novel with plenty of incident and a heroine who will engage the sympathies of readers, but the more perspicacious among them will have to be willing to suspend their disbelief at some incidents that just don’t ring true. Nevertheless, young readers will be confronted with many of the issues of the early 20th century: universal suffrage, class-structure, the aftermath of slavery, racism are all components of a book that does not present them in a heavy manner, and which for that reason, may make them accessible to a wider audience than would a more serious presentation.