Written by Catherine and David Mac Phail
Published by Barrington Stoke
Publication date: 15th October 2018
Summary (from Goodreads):
The war is won but for Tony there is little to celebrate. His brother never returned from no man’s land and has died not as a hero but executed as a coward. Refusing to believe that his brother was a traitor, a grief stricken Tony is pushed to the edge in his dark quest to uncover the horrifying truth. A thrilling narrative of intertwining perspectives, particularly suitable for struggling, reluctant or dyslexic readers aged 8+
It was over. After four long years, the war was finally over. Flags were flying. The band was playing. The whole town was celebrating as the soldiers marched past. The boys were coming home from the war.
But not all of them.
This story follows Tony, a 16-year-old boy who is trying to get to the bottom of what happened to his older brother Charlie, during the last days of the First World War. Many men have come home, scarred by their experiences, but Charlie lost his life on foreign fields. Not only that, but rumour has it that he deserted his men and was executed by firing squad.
Tony’s mother, in her grief, becomes distant and convinced that Charlie has come home, while former friends and neighbours shun the family after hearing of Charlie’s cowardice. When a former teacher gives Tony a white feather, he knows that he has to find out more. The brother he knew would never have run away.
After reading Charlie’s final note and discovering a coded message, Tony decides to investigate the true circumstances of his brother’s death by tracking down the officer who claimed to have seen Charlie deserting.
I was immediately drawn in to the family and the characters, as well as the grief felt by those who lost loved ones during the war. I was slightly hesitant about Tony’s methods of finding the truth, especially as it is clear that Lieutenant Fortune is psychologically damaged by the war.
This is an engaging, interesting look at an aspect of the war that is not usually discussed so much. In a very short story the authors have managed to create sympathetic characters and shine a light on some of the true horror of war. Recommended for Year 6!
A white feather, there in Tony’s palm. The symbol of cowardice. But Mrs Aubrey wasn’t calling Tony a coward. The feather was for his brother.
Charlie had died out there in France, but he hadn’t died a hero. He had died a coward. He had died running away from battle, turning his back on his comrades, leaving them to be murdered.
What I liked: The subject matter, as something that isn’t talked about so much whenever we talk about the First World War, the sibling bond between Charlie and Tony. I also liked how this book is high interest but low threat and uses a dyslexia-friendly font and page colour.
Even better if: There was some recognition on Tony’s part that what he was doing to Lieutenant Fortune was cruel, but I still felt a bit uncomfortable with his actions.
How you could use it in your classroom: I will be recommending this to Year 6 as they study the First World War. It will be particularly useful for pupils who are reading at a lower level, but still need interesting, high-quality texts. This year being the centenary of the end of the war also means that our school will be taking part in school-wide and nationwide celebrations so I will be using extracts from this book to share with the children and in our school library.
(Thank you to Barrington Stoke for my review copy!)
Look out for my interview with one of the authors, David MacPhail, coming up soon!
Thanks for reading!