Elizabeth Laird has written numbers of excellent stories for children, but she has never done anything better than this present title. Strongly autobiographical, it describes a year in the life of Charity Brown, a brave, funny and outspoken thirteen-year-old constantly trying to balance family loyalty with her own vision of a richer life elsewhere. Her otherwise kind and caring parents belong to an extreme religious sect that has little time for any of the ‘worldly ‘pleasures that Charity is just beginning to glimpse outside the home. The arrival of Rachel, a highly civilised and intelligent Jewish girl living next door, at last provides her with the friend she was looking for after her older brother and sisters have left home.
Set around 1950 at a time in London where thick fogs still cause peak hospital admission, Charity, recently recovering from polio, also has a tough time at her state school. This is mainly because her previous loyal attempts at evangelising other pupils have fallen on very stony ground. But like a young Jane Eyre, she has no time for self-pity. Increasingly doubting her faith she bounces back and forth in her mind quotations from the Bible, rare in children’s books these days, against other insights that no longer quite fit. Eventually she fights her way through to a conclusion that just about manages to please everybody in a narrative that is always asking questions rather than going for easy assurances. Narrated as if in the voice of Charity, this delightful story is a total pleasure, written with affection as well as art and never for a moment outstaying its welcome. Now something of a veteran children’s author herself, Elizabeth Laird has once again come up with something truly rather special.