Cathy Forde, who’s both popular with readers ages eight to twelve, and with literary critics, may be best known in the US for Fat Boy Swim and The Drowning Pool. In 2001, she published Think Me Back, which I frankly can’t remember happening across here across the pond.
Instead of living a life of reader regrets, however, I’m delighted to discover The Blitz Next Door, which is a revision and republication of that 2001 title, wonderfully immediate and so gentle in its updating of details marking the present that I know it had to be Floris Books behind this 2015 Kelpies edition. Let me share it with you:
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The Blitz Next Door, by Cathy Forde, for readers 8-12
Pete is far from thrilled to arrive in in Clydebank, Scotland, far away from home in London: he’s had to leave his best friends, his baby sister is cranky and colicky, his mother is depressed, and Dad seems way more interested in pleasing his new boss than making sure his family gets comfortable.
The house is nice, though: way bigger than their London flat, and Pete gets his own room. However, it’s not enough, apparently, that Pete’s sister is crying; on the other side of the wall in Pete’s new room, there’s another crying girl, too, only she talks as well, telling her mum that she really won’t get packed and ready to move. And sometimes she plays the recorder.
When Pete’s dad shows him the old air raid shelter in the garden, and tells Pete he can have it for his own den, Pete’s thrilled. Looking back at his new home, above the crater near the air raid shelter, however, he realizes that … there can’t be a girl next door because there is no next door. The bomb that made this crater 75 years ago demolished that house. So where is that weeping girl? And who is she?
Soon enough, Pete has a new friend, a neighborhood boy named Dunny who shares his passion for football. He seems to have another new friend as well. The girl in the house that isn’t there any longer next door appears in the air raid shelter, come to write in her journal, which Dunny himself found before Pete’s arrival in Clydebank, or to play with the boys’ football figurines when they aren’t around. But Pete sees her, and even talks with her.
How can that be? How can there be a house where there is no house, a girl who would have to now be an old woman, if she survived the bombing?
Pete’s story is vivid and studded with just enough historical facts to send readers scrambling to read more about the World War II bombing known as the Clydebank Blitz, on March 13, 1941, and other events that truly do echo into the 21st century. Pete and the girl, Beth, do have a connecting point in the present as well, and that allows them to bring her haunting of her old and ruined home to rest.
A note about the second edition: This story easily works 15 years after its original publication. Gentle editing to add such details as Pete’s preoccupied father as texting when he might better be conversing with his wife or his son make it feel very much of the moment. With this being the 75th anniversary of an event that killed over 500 Scottish civilians, damaged or destroyed about 12,000 houses, and left 35,000 homeless, yet still escaping much notice except locally even today, it offers a great opportunity to jumpstart studies of local history.
The Blitz Next Door, by Cathy Forde, is published by Kelpies, a Floris Books Imprint, 2015. Originally published 2001 as Think Me Back and available in paperback and e-book. It’s 172 pages.