Ten year old Noel Bostock lives with his godmother Mattie in Hampstead Heath. An intelligent and unusual bookish child, he's been raised unconventionally by his elderly suffragette guardian. When Mattie starts exhibiting signs of senile dementia, Noel fills in the blanks for her, learns to cook, and keeps her secret. But when she wanders away one winter night, he is sent to live with Mattie's cousin and his wife, a couple who are kind enough but really have no room in their lives for a grieving young boy. It is a relief to them when Noel must be evacuated from London like the rest of the city's children. Sent to St. Alban's, not far from London, the serious child with jug handle ears and a limp from a bout of polio as a baby lands with the not always entirely honest Mrs. Vera Sedge, her lazy son Donald, and her dependent, mute mother Flora.
Vee only chooses to take Noel in on a spur of the moment whim--she'll receive money monthly for his upkeep--but immediately regrets her decision as she realizes she'll have to also provide and care for him. She worries that he'll also interfere with her money making schemes, no matter that they generally fail miserably anyway. Instead Vee and Noel become a team. With his brains and her action, their scam of collecting money for invented wartime charities is going a treat. Meanwhile the otherwise unremarkable Donald is up to his own dangerous tricks. And Vee's mother Flora stays busy writing hilarious, chatty missives to government officials about the illegal goings on inspired by the war and morale killers as she sees them.
Evans has written a wonderfully entertaining novel. Her characters are complete and engaging, even when they are up to no good. The growing connection between Noel and Vee is touching to watch, especially as this waif with nowhere else to go is the first person to treat Vee with any dignity and respect at all. Noel is an odd duck but he's heartwarming for all his eccentricities and the reader cannot help but feel sympathy for him both in the loss of his godmother and in his naive outrage over the small scale immoralities allowed by war (his and Vee's not included). There is a deliciously sly wit that threads through the narrative and shines through in unexpected places. This is a lovely novel of friendship, caring, and moral implications only partially hidden underneath a delightfully humorous story of bumbling ineptness, petty scams, and war. Thoroughly recommended.
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Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.