I received this book free from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Crooked Heart: A Novel by Lissa Evans
Published by Harper on July 28th 2015
Genres: Historical Fiction, WWII
Source: TLC Book Tours
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Paper Moon meets the Blitz in this original black comedy, set in World War II England, chronicling an unlikely alliance between a small time con artist and a young orphan evacuee.
When Noel Bostock—aged ten, no family—is evacuated from London to escape the Nazi bombardment, he lands in a suburb northwest of the city with Vera Sedge—a thirty-six-year old widow drowning in debts and dependents. Always desperate for money, she’s unscrupulous about how she gets it.
Noel’s mourning his godmother Mattie, a former suffragette. Wise beyond his years, raised with a disdain for authority and an eclectic attitude toward education, he has little in common with other children and even less with the impulsive Vee, who hurtles from one self-made crisis to the next. The war’s provided unprecedented opportunities for making money, but what Vee needs—and what she’s never had—is a cool head and the ability to make a plan.
On her own, she’s a disaster. With Noel, she’s a team.
Together, they cook up a scheme. Crisscrossing the bombed suburbs of London, Vee starts to make a profit and Noel begins to regain his interest in life. But there are plenty of other people making money out of the war—and some of them are dangerous. Noel may have been moved to safety, but he isn’t actually safe at all. . . .
Noel, a ten year old boy, has been raised by his eccentric, ex-suffragette godmother Mattie. In addition to his normal schooling, Mattie always took the time to give what she referred to as “proper schooling” which included discussions on the obscure and essay topics that gave you more reasons to think such as “What Is Freedom?” and “All Things are Difficult Before They Are Easy”. Mattie imbued in him her particular understanding of the world causing him to develop the most intriguing personality making him an immediate addition to my favorite quirky children in literature shelf. In addition to the impending war causing the residents of London and its outskirts to be constantly on their toes, Noel is attempting to handle the seriousness of Mattie’s decline into senile dementia. Instead of evacuating London with the rest of the children, he opts to stay with Mattie to take care of her knowing that soon she’s not going to be able to take care of him much longer let alone herself. The introduction of Noel and Mattie is fantastically succinct and encompasses the Prologue alone. It set an amazing tone and heightened expectations for the rest of the story. I’m so very pleased to say that it never disappointed and only continued to impress me.
‘The day after that, all the children disappeared, as if London had shrugged and the small people had fallen off the edge.’
On a particularly typical yet cold Winter night, Mattie decides to take a walk and doesn’t come back home. Noel is now forced into evacuating and he’s rounded up with several other children hoping to find families willing to take in another mouth to feed. Noel comes across as a shy, silent child but is actually in very deep mourning for the one person on this earth he truly loved.
‘Reading felt effortful. It was odd to think that for years he had sucked up print without thinking. Since leaving Mattie’s house, he hadn’t finished a book. He couldn’t follow a plot any more, the meaning seemed to bypass his brain, or else stuck to it briefly and then fell off when he turned the page, like an inadequately licked stamp.’
He finds himself taken in by a middle-aged woman named Vee, for the sole reason of the money she’s able to collect for taking him into her care. Right off the bat, her intentions aren’t honorable, but considering Noel is never mistreated or anything of the like, she’s easily forgiven. Vee’s son Donny has a heart problem and is unable to contribute financially and her mother is unable to speak following an incident where she collapsed and hit her head after Vee first told her she was pregnant (and un-wed). Drastic times call for drastic measures and Vee begins grasping for any possible way to earn enough money to help her household survive. This is how she comes up with the idea of going door to door for donations, except there is no charity awaiting her collected coin; it’s going straight into her own pocket. Noel, wrapped in the comfort of his mourning, regains a spark of life when he recognizes Vee’s actions for what they are subsequently intriguing him enough to offer to help. He comes up with a better plan and together, the unlikeliest of duos use the War as an opportunity to survive.
I really paced myself with this one, knowing early on it was going to be hard to say goodbye to this vibrant and original cast of characters. For a book that I picked up simply because it was related to World War II, it had surprisingly little to do with the actual war. It was rather a behind the scenes type look on what you would expect to encounter during wartime but never quite earns its own story. I loved how the story delves into what’s morally right after the duo uncover a crime occurring where people’s belongings are being stolen after they are forced to evacuate. Even though they are collecting for a charity that doesn’t actually exist, these people are still giving willingly. Crooked Heart asks the question: is it better to take under false pretenses or to steal without their knowledge? Is one legally wrong and the other simply morally wrong?
Crooked Heart, while also delving into the seriousness of war without going as far as to take us to the battle lines, is also instilled with a dark humor that I feel is most appropriate for that day and age. Because even though there is sadness that is saturated into every nook and cranny and hangs over the city like a pall, there’s still some humor to be found and Evans characters use it as a coping mechanism to get through these trying times. Wonderful, wonderful novel, I’m so very glad I took the chance on this obscure little gem of a read.
This post was a part of ‘Crooked Heart’ blog tour.
Check out the other tour stops below!
Tuesday, July 28th: 100 Pages a Day … Stephanie’s Book Reviews
Wednesday, July 29th: BookNAround
Thursday, July 30th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Friday, July 31st: From the TBR Pile
Monday, August 3rd: Raven Haired Girl
Tuesday, August 4th: Savvy Verse & Wit
Wednesday, August 5th: A Bookworm’s World
Thursday, August 6th: Dwell in Possibility
Monday, August 10th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Wednesday, August 12th: Cold Read
Tuesday, August 18th: Kissin Blue Karen
Wednesday, August 19th: FictionZeal
Wednesday, August 19th: The Book Binder’s Daughter
Thursday, August 20th: Bilbiophiliac
Friday, August 21st: For the Love of Words
Monday, August 24th: Doing Dewey