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Remembrance by Theresa Breslin

Monday, April 14, 2014

Publisher: Random House Children's Publisher UK
Source: Netgalley 
Rating: 4/5

The year is 1915 and the war has already gone on longer than predicted. Two sets of siblings become friends in the unlikeliest circumstances just before the realities of the war begin to permeate their lives. Focusing on the fighting and life back home, the story follows the friends through the thick of it and the aftermath. 

Remembrance was stirring, thought-provoking, and heartbreaking. I rarely read anything about World War I - the last being The Last Summer by Judith Kinghorn - but this is definitely the most realistic and moving WWI novel I've come across. There's so much packed into it but it is all handled with such delicate sensitivity that you can't help but become absorbed.

I loved all of the characters. Each and every one of them just got to me. I loved Charlotte for her compassion and steadfastness; Maggie for her courage and fire; John Malcolm for his patriotism and bravery; Alex for his loyalty; and Francis for his heart. They all just seemed so real, which further enhanced the horrors they encountered.

Many themes were covered in Remembrance. The changing role of women in society was handled well, as seen through the eyes of Charlotte and Maggie as they threw themselves into work that previously would have been frowned upon. The breaking down of class boundaries was shown through the relationships - both romantic and platonic - between the friends and their families. Pacifism was handled extremely well through Francis's story and his thoughts on Just War theory (which I haven't encountered since my final year of university!). Patriotism and duty was explored through the actions of all characters, from Charlotte signing up to be a nurse, to John Malcolm and Alex's eagerness to enlist and defend their country. Also, poignantly, through the deaths of the soldiers nursed by Charlotte who wanted to know if they had fought the good fight. Finally, the shrinking world in terms of borders and other nationalities, with the diverse allied force comprised of soldiers from a number of countries - from India to Canada.

The pacing of the novel was beautifully executed, with each year of the war split off into different parts. This helped keep things as clear as possible because there was a great deal of information to digest and it might have been overwhelming without the parts. I loved the use of letters, particularly John Malcolm's letters home and Maggie's letters to Francis.

Overall, Remembrance was a wonderfully crafted novel. It is the perfect novel to read as a companion to this year's First World War Centenary programming and events.

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