My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I have a lot of love for Michelle Magorian, one of the great dames of British children’s literature. I’ve spoken about Back Home before, briefly, in a list of books featuring Dartington Hall, the place where I went to University. It was, however, a too brief mention and so I returned to Back Home in order to review it properly.
And, to be honest, I returned because I’ve spent too long without reading a Michelle Magorian. She’s one of those writers who simply is and always will be there in my life and her stories are ones that I return to when I need comfort, or when I just need to remind myself of what can happen when people are really good at what they do.
Back Home is a gorgeous, powerful book. Virginia is returning to the UK after being evacuated during the second world war to the United States. She’s come back with a new nickname, Rusty, and a new more confident personality. Fitting back into the world that she left is hard. Her family still expects her to be the Virginia they let go, her grandmother basically loathes her, and the war torn nature of Britain comes as stark contrast to the life Rusty led in the United States.
And so, perhaps inevitably, Rusty is sent to boarding school to bring her back to the girl that various people want her to be. It does not go well.
Alex Baugh sums it up excellently in this review by calling it “a misfit come of age story.” What’s particularly interesting is that this by no means refers solely to Rusty. There’s a strong feminist slant towards some of the novel, particularly the storyline affecting Rusty’s mother, and so Back Home is not just the story of Rusty figuring out who she is now. It’s the story of a whole lot of people figuring out who they are after the world changed all around them.
Magorian’s language and writing style are vivid and heartfelt. There’s points in this where you feel every single step taken by Rusty and, as ever with a Magorian, there will be tears. But there’s more than sadness in this book, it’s not just about those sorts of tears. It’s about hope and joining these characters on their journey of discovery.
Michelle Magorian is outstanding. You should all go read her stuff, now. I’ll write you a note for PE and I’ll phone your boss for you. Trust me, it’s worth it.