I was delighted to receive a copy of Shelter, the debut novel by Sarah Franklin. It was a book that interested me as it was set during the war, but in a setting that is in stark contrast to previous novels I have read set in this era.
In Shelter we meet Connie Granger, a young woman whose life takes a very different path when her home city of Coventry is bombed leaving devastation in its wake. Connie is forced to escape, to start a new life, and finds refuge by joining the Women’s Timber Corps in the Forest of Dean. The forest provides shelter for Connie, and a community in which she can find a new home. But the pain of her past is ever present, and Connie is haunted by past decisions, and the thought of what could have been. And then she meets Seppe, an Italian prisoner of war who is also searching for freedom within the forest. However, he too is haunted by memories of the past, and over the course of the novel we begin to unravel the events that shaped Seppe’s life and his current position. And we also see how Connie and Seppe become drawn together, and how this meeting of two strangers changes their lives, as the two of them contemplate their futures, whilst the world beyond the forest is in turmoil.
I really liked the setting of this story and how we get to see the forest through the changing seasons alongside those individuals who are sheltered within. The stories of Connie and Seppe and those around them are told with tenderness and warmth. Through these characters we see the impact of war, the scars that are left behind, unable to heal. But as they reflect on these difficult memories there is also a glimmer of hope. New relationships and friendships are formed, a new life played out deep within a forest that was vividly portrayed. As I wasn’t familiar with them prior to reading this novel I was interested to hear about the lumberjills and their training in the Timber Corps and Franklin’s beautiful writing adds an authenticity to the characters and their stories. And as the seasons shift and the environment changes we witness how Connie and Seppe change alongside it, and I read on in interest to see if they could find solace in a troubled world.
Shelter is a well written and enjoyable read which explores a side of the war I had not considered before. It is at times poignant and heartbreaking, but it is also a story filled with love and a hope for a better tomorrow.
Shelter was published on 27th July 2017 by Bonnier Zaffre. With thanks to Bonnier Zaffre for providing a copy for review.