This is a very modern old-fashioned book. The successor to Storm, which won the Carnegie Medal, its plot and characters and setting stir many reminders of other Carnegie winners, notably Philip Turner, Philippa Pearce and Jan Mark. The place is the village of Waterslain on the north Norfolk coast in the 1950s, and we rejoin the Carter family of Storm. Annie Carter, aged ten, has a new friend and a new mission. The friend is Sandy, an 11-year-old American boy whose mother, a former GI bride, has just returned to her native village, to Annie’s father’s delight and her mother’s disgust. The mission is to find the 14 painted wooden angels that adorned the roof of Waterslain Church until Cromwell’s time. Alan Leppard, a local mechanic and petty criminal, has the same idea, and if he finds the angels he will sell them. Annie and Sandy will do anything to beat him to it.
This is partly where the modern bit comes in. A traditional plot (family story, friendship, secret quest, detective work, church) is bang up to date in the person of Annie. Doing anything to win, in Annie’s case, includes disobeying Mum’s explicit orders, telling lies, breaking promises, and initiating reckless explorations which endanger the lives of herself, and Sandy, and even her three-year-old nephew Storm, whom she is supposed to be babysitting. Those earlier writers might well have included such misdeeds, but would never have airily condoned them as Crossley-Holland does. Times have changed. Thoroughly modern Annie is a twenty-first century child in the 1950s, and the author’s spotlight is on her intelligence, determination, courage, and undoubted leadership in the quest with Sandy. At the end there is even the most discreet of hints that Annie and Sandy are moving a bit beyond friendship. As the story develops we also eavesdrop on Annie’s dreams, which enrich the book’s psychological insight and remind us that Crossley-Holland is a poet.
The result is an outwardly conventional story which is actually bold, original and at times subversive. And beautifully written, and very satisfying. Readers of their age will find nothing out of date in Annie and Sandy, except the lost and vividly captured historical moment in which they live.