This is a wonderful evocation of the latter end of the ‘Roaring twenties’. A period when Art Deco was the height of fashion, girls bobbed their hair and those who could afford it partied until they dropped. Life for Lou Trevelyan is very different from this; she lives with her large family on a Cornish farm and the most exciting event on the horizon is her sister Alice’s wedding. Lou’s favourite activity is to swim out to the nearby island and wander around the large Cardew mansion, which has been empty for several years and relish being alone. Then one day the owner Robert Cardew and his sister Caitlin arrive, complete with a large house party of ‘bright young things’. Lou gradually gets drawn into this glamourous lifestyle and this causes friction with her sister Alice; however she soon finds that there are some very dark undercurrents to the lifestyle she sees and life becomes very complex. Added to this is her growing attraction to Robert, who is only in his early twenties and yet seems a world away in his sophistication. This turns out to be a summer that Lou will never forget.
I started this book with some trepidation, because I had enjoyed Laura Wood’s books for younger readers, but I have to say that she has surpassed herself with this story. It is truly magical in the way it transports us back to that golden period between the wars, before the depression and the threat from Germany began to rear its head. It is a story about family in its different forms and about the fragility of the human spirit, but it is also about our ability to overcome adversity and forge a new path. The characters face many challenges, from racism and gay relationships to mental health and financial issues, but they find that real friendship can be a tremendous support and can help them find their way through.
Lou is a delightful heroine who never totally succumbs to the bright lights, but always maintains the common sense of her family and her own down to earth attitudes. This really is a wonderful book and fits in with those titles such as The Great Gatsby, Jeeves and Wooster and the Poirot novels of Agatha Christie. It is highly recommended for the upper end of secondary school.