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All that is left is Mavis's shoe.
Mavis's Shoe - Sue Reid Sexton
Member Name: MelissaRuth
Mavis's Shoe - Sue Reid Sexton
Advantages: Beautifully written. Strong and meaningful characters. Brings history to life.
Disadvantages: Potentially distressing subject matter.
I had not heard of the author before and looking at the book I can see no indication of her having published anything prior to this which was released in 2011. It seems that she has since written a dramatisation of the book which has been performed. I am sure that she will be an author that we will hear plenty more from in the future as this is a truly moving and brilliantly written book.
**Just another war story?**
Set in 1941 Mavis's Shoe recounts two awful nights of bombing, by the Luftwaffe, of Clydebank in Scotland. This really is not just another war story, however. There is no getting away from the fact that it is a pretty harrowing read that undoubtedly led to an increase in my understanding of what it would have been like to have been caught in this ferocious nightmare where all but 7 houses in the town were damaged or destroyed, but there is something very different and special about this book.
Lenny (Leonora) is the main character in this story and everything that is recounted is from her perspective, reading a little like an autobiography even though it is fiction, albeit based on sound research of a very real episode. She is 9 at the time and we first meet her as the air raid sirens are starting up on the 13th March, the first day of the air raids. She has lost her little sister, Mavis, who has run off, after they had a run in with some 'bad boys' while out playing. As the bombs rain down Lenny runs up and down their local streets desperately trying to find Mavis and then her Mum too, who had been at the pictures with a friend. How can she have lost her little sister in the first place? She is only four, and now there is such danger and horrific sites to be witnessed and she feels so worried and guilty. The one thing that she does find on her search is a shoe identical to Mavis's.
Mavis's shoe takes on monumental importance throughout the remainder of the book as the search for her precious sister develops in a number of ways. She can never be parted from it.
I felt as though I was right there with Lenny every step of the way as the days progressed since the siren sounded and Mavis disappeared. Her emotions are portrayed so clearly and seem so real that I could always understand exactly why she took each course of action that she did and why she responded to the other characters in the book as she did. I can also picture her so clearly with her singed almost nonexistent hair, borrowed dress and hat with the daffodil fixed into it.
Lenny was lucky because she was taken in and cared for by Miss Weatherspoon, who she cheekily, calls Miss Weatherbeaten throughout, who used to be a teacher at her school and rescued her in the immediate aftermath of the first night of bombing. Along with Mr Tait, the scary old neighbour with the wooden stick for hitting children, she guides Lenny away from her desperate hunt for her family, and they walk out over the hills while yet more bombs fall over the town, eventually arriving at Carbeth.
Carbeth, prior to the war was a holiday retreat for the Glasgow city livers and consisted of wooden huts, which were commandeered to house the many people trying to escape the Blitz. Into one of these huts the escapees are deposited and so starts the rest of Lenny's story.
I didn't really take to Miss Weatherspoon; her character seemed quite complex and possibly double sided, but Mr Tait is portayed exceptionally well and it is clear to see how Lenny comes to look on him as such an important figure in her little world. He knows what is right and she trusts him implicitly and he is her real friend. There are many more characters that appear once Lenny is living at Carbeth who all play an important part in how she behaves and how she becomes integrated into this artificial community. It is so interesting to see how this new community pull together to re-establish their lives.
However, no matter how much Lenny integrates and how many people are looking out for her, no one can replace her mum and Mavis and she spends hours looking at that shoe and singing old favourite rhymes, remembering them and working out how she can get them back. She feels safe at Carbeth and with its rope swing, hills, woods, shop in a bus and her new school, all she wants is to bring her whole family here to live.
The book is beautifully written. Nothing is over written or over described. It is simple and childlike but I feel that I know exactly what Clydebank and Carbeth were like and I know just enough to piece together the horrors that Lenny has seen. The cover of the book adds to this and is presented perfectly. Despite being a paperback it is a luxurious glossy feeling book. Do try and read this in paper version and not on an E reader as the cover really does add to the whole reading experience. The front is poignant; flames rise behind gutted buildings at the top with the bottom being taken up with a close up picture of a little brown leather shoe lying on its side on a cobbled pavement beside shards of glass and remnants of bricks. Opening up a flap, much like the sleeve of a hardback book alongside a quoted paragraph from the book there is a real photograph of a smouldering demolished street with a wrecked tram at the centre and people obviously searching for their loved ones or property. Inside is a scene that Lenny clearly describes on her search, looking out of a ruined house with just the range set into the thick wall and the copper kettle intact on it and the Singer sewing machine building outside where her Mum and Mr Tait worked. Inside the cover of the back flap is a photograph showing one of the huts at Carbeth. As you can imagine alongside the prose these really help to set the scene and help your imagination understand Lenny's world.
The book is just over 400 pages long with fairly large print and I raced through it quite quickly. Despite the potentially distressing content I found it an easy book to read. I liked being able to follow Lenny's journey on a map provided at the beginning and there are also some factual notes at the beginning and end. I feel privileged to have been given insight into another culture, and particularly that of Carbeth, and a small piece of the history of the UK. I highly recommend reading it and will be suggesting to my teenage daughters that they read it too as I think it presents life in the war in a way that they will easily be able to understand. I think that it should appeal equally to both males and females.
Published by Waverly
RRP - £7.99
Summary: A beautifully written childs eye view of the blitz in Scotland.