Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Six Degrees of Separation: From Life After Life to The Luckiest Girl

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month it’s a wild card – the chain begins with the book that ended our July reading, which means that my starting book is Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (2013).

I reviewed Life after Life last week.  It is an unusual novel told against the backdrop of two wars, World War I and World War II, and includes an attempted assassination on Hitler.   My first link is WWII.

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (2015) combines several of my interests: historical fiction, WWII, and evacuation.   For those unfamiliar with this era, when the Germans began heavily bombing England, urban families and families on the coast were told to send their children to safety.   In the summer of 1939, with more than 3 million children removed from London and other cities in the first four days of evacuations alone.  Some went to relatives in England, the US, or Canada but most wound up with strangers, some welcoming, some not.  For heroine Ada, evacuation means escape and freedom, although there are many challenges ahead.   This is the kind of book that is so good I bought one copy for myself, one for my 11 year old niece for her birthday, and another for some lucky person in the future.

My second link is orphans or quasi-orphans being sent from London to the country, which brings me to a book I love dearly, Flambards by K. M. Peyton (1967).  Orphaned Christina is forced to go live with her Uncle Russell, and his sons, Mark and Will, at their home, Flambards, in the early 1900s. Mark and his father are obsessed with horses while Will is obsessed with machinery and aviation.  To her surprise, Christina becomes deeply attached to Flambards, although her relationship with these three strong willed men is unpredictable and stressful.   This is the first of four books and there was also a surprisingly good BBC adaptation.
My third link is aviation.  I found Flambards in my elementary school library about the same time I read A Girl Can Dream by Betty Cavanna (1948).   This is a book about a slightly awkward teen who admires the cool kids at school (especially one particular boy) but most of all she yearns to fly.   When she enters and wins a contest for flying lessons, it changes her life.  (I got in trouble for being in the school library reading this book when I was supposed to be in social studies with Mrs. Aucoin).

My fourth link is Concord, Massachusetts, which is where Betty Cavanna lived with her second husband.  Five Little Peppers and How They Grew (1881) is a classic 19th century rags to riches story written by Margaret Sidney, who lived in the Wayside in Concord where Louisa May Alcott once resided.  The saintly Mrs. Pepper, unfortunately known as Mamsie, who lives with her five children in the Little Brown House, is the moral compass of this poor but happy family.  They have good times, despite their poverty, and eventually are given an opportunity to move to New York to a more affluent life.   I read this whole series at Pomroy House where I took sewing classes for years.  More on Rebecca Romroy another time!
My fifth link is nepotism.  Margaret Sidney’s books were published by her husband’s publishing company, D. Lothrop, and On to Oregon by HonorĂ© Morrow (1926) (aka Seven Alone) was published by her husband, William Morrow.   However, their books merited attention, so I won’t hold it against them!   On to Oregon is the fictional version of the real life Sager family who left Missouri for Oregon in 1844 (Henry Sager was as restless as Charles Ingalls) but the parents died during the difficult journey, leaving their seven children orphans, although they are ultimately taken in by missionaries Narcissa and Marcus Whitman.  I vividly remember my fourth grade teacher, Miss Sandra Barnes, reading it to the class and we were all enthralled.  Too bad my youthful thirst for research then inspired me to find a book on the Whitmans, only to learn they had been massacred!   There’s a lesson for you!   

The sixth link is Oregon.  Beverly Cleary grew up there, famously in Yamhill, but attended college and settled in California, the setting of my favorite of her books, The Luckiest Girl (1958).   For those who know Cleary best as the author of the Ramona and Henry Huggins books, this is a YA novel about a girl who spends a year in California with family friends and makes friends, gains confidence, and figures out who she wants to be.  Yes, there’s some romance, as Shelley falls for a handsome athlete, ignoring the charms of the smart journalist.   She’ll learn!  Shelley owns a raincoat with a black velvet collar and when I found such a raincoat at Filene’s Basement many years ago, I bought it at once (although mine is purple, not pink) and am still wearing it.

Now I am reading The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane (2019). We’ll see what the rest of August has in store!  

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