Days of Grace by Catherine Hall
Published by Viking Adult, an imprint of Penguin
Review copy provided by the publicist
World War II has just begun, and twelve-year-old Nora Lynch is one of the many London children evacuated from their homes and families and sent to live in the English countryside. Her new family, Reverend and Mrs. Rivers and their daughter Grace, shower her with affection, material luxury she’s never experienced, and the sister she never knew she always wanted. Over time, Nora and Grace become closer and at the same time the issues in this family come to the surface. What happens between Nora and Grace becomes a terrible secret that Nora keeps for over fifty years, hiding it within her soul even throughout the course of her long marriage. Now, fifty years later, Nora is living alone and takes in a young, unwed mother. With this new “daughter” in her life, Nora must finally free herself from the secrets she has harbored all these years.
Days of Grace is a book that I would never have heard of if it hadn’t been pitched to me for review. Thank goodness it was, because I thought this book was absolutely fantastic. There were so many things I loved about this novel I don’t even know where to start.
First of all, I always love a book set during World War II. In this case, the characters are pretty distant from the war itself, and it’s not really a focus of the book, but it is always looming in the background. Nora left her mother in London to live with the Rivers’ because of the war, so it is always hovering in the background, the reason for the characters’ circumstances.
The novel is told with the chapters alternating time periods: Nora’s past and Nora’s present. This was an extremely effective way to tell the story, as the details of Nora’s past are revealed slowly, but the reader still understands throughout the whole book that something happened which caused Nora to harbor this huge secret all these years. It also gave the reader the opportunity to get to know Nora both as a child and elderly woman, and this really helped me connect to her character. I felt deeply for her and just kept hoping that maybe things would turn out well for her childhood self – even though I knew something awful was going to happen.
I also want to point out that Days of Grace does fall into the GLBTQ category because there is a budding relationship/crush situation happening between Nora and Grace (this isn’t really a spoiler, it’s pretty consistent throughout the book, starting early on). This was a pleasant surprise for me, it was refreshing to see a “schoolgirl crush” on another girl – and in a historical setting! It just added one more element to a story which I loved overall.
And the secret that Nora held onto all those years? Obviously I’m not going to say what it is (you’ll just have to read the book!) but it took me by surprise, and it was written very well into the story. It made perfect sense, while at the same time being a huge shock, and it just ended the book perfectly.
I haven’t seen much of Days of Grace around the blogosphere, which is a shame because I really, really enjoyed it. This book has so many things I look for in a novel – great characters, an interesting setting, unexpected plot points, and a perfect ending. I couldn’t ask for more, and I certainly hope more of you read Days of Grace!