Twelve-year-old Petra has grown up in a lighthouse on the Kent coast, a world of storms, secret tunnels and stories about sea monsters. But as the Second World War looms, her beloved cliff tops become a terrifying battleground, the threat of invasion horribly close across the water. Her family-lighthouse keeper Pa, her German mother and fiery, unpredictable sister Magda-is torn apart. At the core of the narrative is small, afraid and unnoticed Petra, who feels inextricably linked to a strange, ancient legend.
Strange is a glutinously atmospheric writer, for whom less is never more, and not even a gas mask is what it seems: "Sometimes I can feel [it] looking at me from its home on the kitchen sideboard – with its round, glassy, goggle eyes, and its round mouth too - fixed in an O of horror." Her first novel, The Secret of Nightingale Wood, set in the aftermath of the Great War, told the story of a young girl whose mother has been left shattered by the death of her son. This novel, similarly, couches grown-up themes in a semi-magic setting. Although it is aimed at readers of nine-plus, it will appeal to those well into their teens.
Lucy Strange has tapped into a growing market for family adventure stories in historical settings for 8 to 12-year-olds. It’s a sub-genre established so elegantly by Kate Saunders (Five Children on the Western Front) and Carroll. Strange is a welcome addition: she sets up her story powerfully, draws her characters well and is good on sister dynamics. She ends with a twist and gives us a real sense of how war and other people’s suspicions can be contagious and fracture the strongest family unit.