Review: Remembrance, Theresa Breslin

Once again I am extremely behind on reviews.  I can tell that I am because when I finish a book before going to sleep at night, I chuck it over the side of my bed (carefully, so it lands flat), and right now there are four books piled up next to my bed, and it would be five if I hadn’t returned Remembrance to the library yesterday.  Eek.  But can I just say before I say anything about Remembrance that y’all are awesome and have given me many lovely ideas for fantasy books to read.  And now onward.

This book never got promoted past the loo, I’m afraid, but it nearly did.  I nearly took it up to bed with me one evening, and then I remembered I had The Writer’s Tale up there, and with Doctor Who about to start up again, and The Writer’s Tale talking about Steven Moffat, that proved more tempting than Remembrance.  You can see how that would happen.

Remembrance is about two families of teenage kids in Scotland during World War I.  Wealthy young Charlotte Armstrong-Barnes and John Malcolm Dundas, whose parents are shopkeepers, have fallen in love, but soon John Malcolm must enlist to fight in the war, while Charlotte works at a hospital to feel that she is helping soldiers like John.  John’s sister Maggie grows to resent gender inequality more and more, while little Alex yearns to be old enough to enlist.  Charlotte’s brother Francis believes that the war is unjust, and earns the scorn of many villagers for his failure to participate in it.

When I started Remembrance, I found the writing style clunky, with every character’s motivation spelled out and the emotional beats predictable.  I wanted to stab Charlotte in the eyes, even though poor thing, she wasn’t doing anything wrong, just being a bit insipid.  The book really picked up for me when the point of view shifted more and more away from Charlotte, as that was when it began to explore in more depth the cultural changes that World War I created.  Francis, for instance, opposes the war, and the reader can see why easily, deplore the loss of life, etc.; but when John Malcolm writes of seeing soldiers just coming from the front, and they are saying “It’s only a few inches of dirt, but it’s our dirt”, it’s still moving.  People finding meaning in the meaningless.

My favorite thing was the contrast between Francis’s life and Maggie’s.  As much as she hates the war, and as much as she loses to it, it also opens up Maggie’s life.  The opportunities she has for relationships and meaningful work would not have existed without the war, and Maggie rebels against the idea of having to give it all back when the war ends.  By contrast, the war gives Francis far fewer options for what to do with his life.  As a wealthy young man, he would have been able to do anything had the war not happened.  As it is, he’s shunned for his opposition to the war, and the only socially acceptable choice for him is to participate in it, which he eventually does.  And I think that is interesting.

Other reviews:

things mean a lot
A Comfy Chair and a Good Book

Anyone else?  Did I miss yours?