My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I’ve been really interested in Webb’s recent turn towards some of the classics of children’s literature. She’s not alone in this of course, Jacqueline Wilson delivered the delightful Four Children And It, whilst Kate Saunders wrote the powerful Five Children On The Western Front.
Webb turned towards the rich grounds of The Secret Garden with the sequel: Return To The Secret Garden and in The Princess And The Suffragette delivers a sequel, of sorts, to Sara Crewe, Or What Happened At Miss Minchin’s (also known as A Little Princess). I say ‘of sorts’ because this is both a sequel and yet also a sort of spin-off, taking the character of Lottie and exploring the circumstances that bought her to Miss Minchin’s Seminary. It’s an interesting angle to take what with Lottie being, to be fair, a bit of a moppett in the original books and locating the subsequent story within the confines of the school. I don’t know about you but (spoilers!) when Sara left, I left as well. These books don’t look back. Not much of children’s literature does (oof, there’s a sweeping statement; forgive me, we’ll explore this more at a later date…!).
Where Webb shines is in how accessible and genuine she make all this feel. Lottie’s slow political awakening, and the parallels to A Little Princess, never feel forced. They never feel definite either, edged with more questions than answers, and that’s another credit to Webb. Books provide answers, sure, but they should never be pat or glib, and sometimes presenting an answer as another question is the truest thing that a story can deserve. And that’s what Webb achieves here; Lottie questions her assumptions and decisions, and Sara, thankfully, is mostly in the background. This isn’t a book which attempts to appropriate Sara, with all the goodwill of the original book, and repurpose her narrative for some forced, farcical reasons, but rather a book that seeks to understand the charged social atmosphere that the young ladies of that time were being asked to exist within. And I like that.
I am grateful to the author for a review copy.