Book Review for “For Those Who Are Lost” by Julia Bryan Thomas.
Summary: “On the eve of the Nazi invasion of the island of Guernsey, terrified parents have a choice to make: send their children alone to England, or keep the family together and risk whatever may come to their villages. Ava and Joseph Simon reluctantly put their 9-year-old son, Henry, and four-year-old daughter, Catherine, in the care of their son’s teacher, who will escort them on a boat to mainland England. Just as the ferry is about to leave, the teacher’s sister, Lily appears. The two trade places: Helen doesn’t want to leave Guernsey, and Lily is desperate for a fresh start. Lily is the one who accompanies the children to England, and Lily is the one who lets Henry get on a train by himself, deciding in a split second to take Catherine with her and walk the other way. That split-second decision lingers long after the war ends, impacting the rest of their lives.“
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Historical; Guernsey; England – Manchester, Yorkshire, Cornwall; Other Categories: Novel, WWII.
Lots of very strange things happened – both tragic and heroic – during WWII. Families trying to escape left their homes, and sometimes families got separated, leaving some behind. So, the premise of this novel about two young children sent away from Guernsey by their parents before the Nazi invasion is very plausible. In fact, while reading this novel, I got the distinct feeling that this was a fictional telling of the author’s own family. Now, that can be both a positive and a negative, especially for historical fiction. The positives are almost always connected to the personal vested interest of the author to make a story that people will love. Obviously, in that case, the author wants to take family legend and make it sound compelling by filling in the gaps that relatives were/are unable to fill, but leaving some things out might feel disrespectful to these people. Sometimes that means that conflicting information needs to be weeded out, or the story won’t make sense.
However, I don’t think that was too much of a problem here, since aside from Thomas ignoring (or perhaps not knowing about) the available channels of communication, the rest of the story fit together nicely. Following these two children and their two different paths during the war was fascinating. Mind you, there were a couple things that didn’t sit totally right with me, the most prominent being why Lily didn’t say she had left Guernsey and said she was from Kent. Her other falsehoods made perfect sense, but surely someone would have been able to do a bit more checking about her status if she was from inside the country. That said, a little fact checking shows that the Red Cross helped people of the island and was able to get some communications between there and England despite the occupation. This doesn’t come up at all in this book, and I was surprised about that.
Now, one thing that I feel is absolutely necessary for a good historical fiction novel is the author’s ability for me to feel sympathy for the protagonist(s); I need to like them, identify with them, and care deeply about what happens to them. This is hard enough to achieve when you have one main protagonist, but when you have three, that’s even more difficult. It was probably because of this that I got the feeling that Thomas wanted to tell too many sides of this story, and that made some parts feel ignored at times. This diluted my ability to fully connect with any of the three, and I didn’t really fall in love with any of them. Now, I liked all the protagonists, and I did care what happened to them, but I’m not sure I was able to really identify with them all that much. However, Thomas did get me to choke up a touch at the end, and that’s to her credit (and it earned her another half a star, because of it).
Now, don’t get me wrong. My regular readers will know that I’m not in the least adverse to quitting on a book and tossing it onto my DNF pile if there’s too much that feels wrong. So, you must know that there was enough here to keep me reading through to the very end. First of all, I really liked Thomas’ style and while it needed a bit of polish here or there, I believe she’s got talent, and a unique voice; I’m certain continued writing will improve this even more. Thomas also seems to know how to develop a concept, approach a story, and think through a well-structured timeline, with some twists along the way to keep our interest. So, yes, there is much to commend with this book, and I’d very much like to read more by her. For all this, I think my most honest rating for this novel would be to recommend it with four out of five stars.
Sourcebooks Landmark released “For Those Who Are Lost” by Julia Bryan Thomas on June 14, 2022. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Foyles, The Book Depository UK and Book Depository US (both with free worldwide delivery), Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and Wordery US, Kobo US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley.