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Fireweed (1972)

Fireweed (1972)
3.68 of 5 Votes: 2
0140305602 (ISBN13: 9780140305609)
penguin books
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Fireweed (1972)
Fireweed (1972)

About book: My friend Barbara introduced me to Jill Paton Walsh at a CLNE Institute (Children’s Literature New England). I’ve read many of Jill’s books and admire her greatly. Finding Fireweed in the Negril Branch Library was an unexpected surprise. This YA book was published in 1969.It’s set in London during the blitz. Two homeless teenagers, Bill and Julie, become friends as they cope with changes in a once familiar landscape. Jill writes beautifully:We walked for hours the next morning. We didn’t want to cross Hungerford Bridge back into the part of London we knew. There were lots of poor little streets over there, all knocked to blazes. Clouds of thick dust hung over the crushed buildings and made a haze in the air everywhere. And it was all horrifying. The houses weren’t abandoned and boarded up; there were people everywhere. They scrambled around on piles of rubble or came in and out of battered houses, carrying things. There were piles of furniture on the pavements; women sat on doorsteps, dabbing swollen eyes with the hems of their aprons; puzzled and frightened children clung to them. We saw two women come staggering out of their house through a great hole in the wall, one carrying a dusty aspidistra in a pot, the other carrying a mantelpiece clock. They were smiling. (p. 65)A woman came out of the van. She was wearing a blue overall cap. Seeing us standing staring at it, she called out, “You can have a bath in five minutes, dearie!”A bath! The very thought of it! We waited. She went off down the road and knocked on doors there. Soon more people were waiting, and women came up with buckets and were given hot water from a tap. When the cubicles were ready, they gave us towels and soap, and we had showers to bathe under. It felt marvelous to be clean again. I put on my last clean shirt, but it was horrible putting the other clothes back on, all gritty with dirt….(p. 66)I wanted the houses I knew to be back up again; I wanted grown-ups to be there. I wanted to be told what to do; I wanted to be worried about. I didn’t want to have anyone else to care for; I didn’t want anyone to need me at all. I wanted to be back in Wales being yattered at and given hot buns for tea; I wanted to be safe. I wanted my own father; I wanted my father, my dad. (p. 70)

Bill runs away after being evacuated to Wales during the Blitz. He makes his way back to London and is doing just fine on his own, if a bit grubby/hungry/lonely, until he spots Julie one morning in the mob of people waking up in the Aldwych Underground Station. He can tell immediately that she is another runaway. After an uncertain start, they decide to stick together in order to better their chances of surviving without a home, and without parents, during wartime.The way Walsh tells a story is just terrific. She uses language effectively, and rendered this time and place so vividly. 3-1/2 stars.
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Rachel Brand
This was one of my favourite books when I was about nine, and I still love it. I think this is possibly down to all the descriptions, and the idea of people moving somewhere new - in this case, Bill and Julie move into a basement and turn it into a home. I was also really interested in the World Wars as a child (an interest which I probably got from my dad). This book is rather unusual for a children's book, as it has a fairly sad ending. I can't think of any other books which I've read which have a sad ending, least not one which still makes the book enjoyable.
This is perhaps 3.75 stars, not quite four. (My opinion has changed, see below.) I love her writing; such beautiful prose, so concrete and direct and carefully measured, and yet it is clearly in her control, for the dialogue sometimes leaps over the lines when the characters are overcome. Her descriptions of London during the war are very good, she captures the confusion of it all, and the strength of people without, I think, undue sentimentalising.So why not five stars? Hmn, that is a good question. I think I should have thought it better if it had worked on two levels; (view spoiler)[ the book is from Bill's point of view, and thus Julie is only seen from his knowledge, and so at the end when she discounts their relationship, it is very hard to know what to make of it. Yes, we see how Bill sees it, and we see how the many years later (six or more) he comes to realise that perhaps more was going on than he understood. But... I think better still if I as the reader had seen Julie so clearly that I knew precisely why she said what she said, and understood it as he could not. Even at the end, all he wonders is if she was lying to her brother so that they could still see each other, without considering other things which might have been happening for her. A lack of agency, perhaps, that Paton Walsh cannot overcome in the point-of-view she chose? I can think of many reasons why Julie might have disclaimed him, from her mother's statement that she is a child (and thus does not understand how Bill feels , who despite the same age is already a man), or the class barriers, or that she is afraid -- but the book does not give us enough of Julie for us to know, and the 'child' argument does not hold up in the rest of the narrative -- and how does a girl of her class know how to clean up a house and make dinners anyway? (hide spoiler)]
This book I picked up on a whim at the library book sale, it had an interesting cover that piqued my interest of two black silhouetted face standing before a city in flames. The very first page gripped me into the story of refugees emerging from an underground shelter where a teenage boy is lurking by himself and notices a young girl doing just the same. It follows their story of rebellion to ship out of their home city during the war and of their attempt to survive as London is bombed. Despite the demise of their homeland, the characters relish in their freedom from concerned adults and sort of play house together as the city falls around them. The engaging narration style kept me very invested through out the quick read and although the ending was a little unsatisfying I still thoroughly enjoyed the novel.
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