Blurb from Good Reads
1914. Poppy is fifteen, beautiful and clever, but society has already carved out her destiny. There’s no question of her attending the grammar school – it’s too expensive and unsuitable for a girl. Instead, Poppy will become a servant at the big house. And she’ll ‘keep out of trouble’. But Poppy’s life is about to be thrown dramatically off course. The first reason is love – with someone forbidden, who could never, ever marry a girl like her. The second reason is war. Nothing could have prepared her for that. As she experiences what people are capable of – the best of humanity and the very worst – Poppy will find an unexpected freedom and discover how to be truly her own person.
Mary Hooper is one of my favourite writers of YA Historical Fiction. She has the knack of combining strong young female characters and realistic historical settings which give readers a strong sense of time and place, whatever their age! Quite a few novels are being released this year to tie in with the centenary of the outbreak of WWI but Poppy would be my standout choice for any young female teens wishing to acquaint themselves with the role of their early 20th century counterparts.
In a relatively short novel, 288 pages, we are shown the dramatic changes war brings about in everyone’s lives, from upper to lower classes, amongst men and women, and particularly for young women like Poppy who find themselves in a position to alter previously rigid, mapped out destinies. Poppy is no longer restricted to a life of servitude as she can forge her own path in life, working as a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse but she will be tested both emotionally and physically in her new career.
The author doesn’t hold back in describing the brutal effects of war, especially the horrendous injuries of Poppy’s patients, some of them young boys bedazzled by the glory of war. We see the early days of plastic surgery as doctors strive to improve the lives of young Tommies stricken by horrific facial injuries. Likewise we see the deep psychological stress placed on these young men – PTSD is unheard of and those who can’t face the horrors of the trenches are swiftly court-martialled and executed.
If I have one tiny quibble about this novel, it’s that it ends on such a cliff-hanger and cannot be read as a stand-alone novel. Poppy’s adventures will resume in the sequel, Poppy in the Field, to be published in May 2015. If you’re looking for an introduction to the role of young women in WWI, a sensitive read which treads the middle path between sentimentality and gore, then Poppy is the ideal place to start. For slightly older readers interested in this period, I would highly recommend Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain’s extremely powerful war memoir.
Poppy by Mary Hooper is published on 8th May 2014 by Bloomsbury Childrens.
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My thanks to Net Galley and Bloomsbury for providing a review copy.