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When Charity's parents are killed in a house fire, things don't look good for the Stratton children. As the eldest child, she fights to try to keep what's left of her family together but fate isn't on her side and she finds herself separated from Toby, Pru and James. Determined to be able to provide financially for her siblings so that they can be reunited, Charity finds herself a job. Through this she meets Hugh and is horrified when she discovers that she's pregnant and alone. Unable to support a baby as well as herself, Charity has some difficult decisions to make. Will she give up her baby so that it can have a better life? Will she ever be properly reunited with her siblings?
As is the case in all of the Lesley Pearse books that I've read so far, Charity is a strong protagonist and she has to be, given her background. We don't see that much of Charity's parents as the fire happens within the first few chapters of the book, but it's enough to make obvious that she hasn't had the best start in life. From there, things rarely get better as we follow her through her efforts to stop the family being split up and sent to distant relatives, her relationship with Hugh and subsequent pregnancy and arrival in London as a pregnant, isolated and desperate teenager. Through all of the ups and downs, her determination to rescue her siblings never wavers, which is incredibly endearing. As someone who hasn't lived through the time period in which the book is set, Pearse does a great job of illustrating what life was like for unmarried mothers in the 1960s.
It's a harrowing read at times and there are also some darker moments towards the end of the book, involving Toby. I found myself drawn to the book and kept wanting to pick it up again to see what happened next. Charity has so many ups and downs during the plot, especially given her young age. It almost feels like the reader is living Charity's life with her as the characterisation is brilliant and the story is so in-depth.
When you're sixteen, pregnant and alone, sixties London is anything but swinging...Charity Stratton's bleak childhood is changed for ever when both her parents are killed in a fire. Separated by the authorities from her younger brothers and sister, Charity is sent out to work as a skivvy in a boys' boarding school. Her loneliness and misery are eased when she falls deeply in love with the dashing but fickle sixth-former, Hugh Mainwaring, but when she discovers she is pregnant with Hugh's baby she soon realises just how alone she really is. Determined to be reunited with her siblings and to make something of herself, Charity runs away to London and begins to forge a new life.