Review by Ellen Blake
This month’s pick of the month from Andrea Peskind-Katz from GREAT THOUGHTS, GREAT READERS is: “The Secret Book of Flora Lea” by Patti Callahan Henry.
What is “The Secret Book of Flora Lea” About?
The instant New York Times bestseller, “The Secret Book of Flora Lea”, is an engaging multiple-layered story. The tale encompasses family, first love, loss, remorse, and forgiveness. Set in two time periods, the chapters alternate between war-torn London and present-day London. We learn about 14-year-old Hazel and her five-year-old sister, Flora, and their evacuation from the city. Named Operation Pied Piper, this program required the children to live temporarily in the countryside to get away from the bombings.
Though traumatized by the separation from their mother and everything familiar, Hazel and Flora found themselves placed in a caring home. Hazel, wanting to be strong for her frightened sister, fills their days with walks, games, and a fairy tale about the magical world of Whisperwood. Whisperwood belonged only to them and served as a secret place to escape, if only in their minds. They don’t even share their storybook world with the kind Mrs. Aberdeen or her son Henry, who took them in.
One day, Hazel and Henry left Flora for playing on the banks of the River Thames. for a moment. When they came back, Flora was gone. She seemed to vanish into thin air. Hazel blames herself and carries the heavy burden of her guilt into adulthood.
Hazel never stops thinking about her sister, but somehow is able to move on. Twenty years later we learn Hazel graduated from college and has a charming boyfriend. She works in a cozy bookstore but plans to leave shortly to work at the prestigious Sotheby’s. On her last day at the bookstore, she discovers a rare book written by an American author about Whisperwood. Since Hazel did not tell anyone about the secret world she created all those years ago, she becomes hopeful that Flora is alive. She sets out to follow the clues to try to find her, feverishly following every lead, not willing to allow anyone to stand in her way.
Hazel’s journey requires she reconnect with people from her past and open old wounds. Despite scant evidence and frequent disappointments, ultimately Hazel solves the mystery of what happened to Flora.
My Review of “The Secret Book of Flora Lea”
The Secret Book of Flora Lea” is a wonderfully heart-wrenching tale of historical fiction. It covered some difficult topics like the war, the trauma of separating families, unrequited love, and more, but also was whimsical and extremely touching. The quest to solve the mystery of how Flora vanished and if she is still alive kept me on the edge of my seat with the many twists and turns throughout.
I read a lot about World War II but I was unfamiliar with Operation Pied Piper. This effort was the biggest and most concentrated mass movement of people in Britain’s history. Ultimately, 3.5 million people, approximately 7% of the population, relocated as a result of Operation Pied Piper. Most were children. Some of the families who took in children treated them well. In other cases touched upon in “The Secret Book of Flora Lea”, people took in children only to receive compensation from the British government and then mistreated the children.
I enjoyed this uplifting book tremendously and highly recommend it. Those who enjoy a combination of historical fiction, mystery, and whimsy, with a love story thrown in for good measure will especially love this book.
I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
What is Operation Pied Piper?
Operation Pied Piper refers to the mass evacuation of children from urban areas in the United Kingdom during World War II. Implemented to protect children from the dangers of German bombings, the goal was to provide them with a safer environment in rural areas or overseas.
The evacuation took place in several stages between 1939 and 1944, primarily during the early years of the war. The British government feared that major cities would be targeted by German air raids, potentially resulting in heavy casualties and significant loss of life. As a precautionary measure, they organized the evacuation of vulnerable individuals, particularly children, along with pregnant women and individuals with disabilities.
Under Operation Pied Piper, children were transported from cities and towns to the countryside. Once there, host families, schools, or institutions provided their care. The government implemented a registration system and issued identity labels for each child to account for and reunite with their families later.
The evacuation was a massive undertaking, with over 3.5 million people relocated during the course of the operation. Trains and buses transported the children, often with their belongings, to designated reception areas in rural locations. Some children were also sent overseas to countries like Canada, Australia, and the United States.
While the evacuation aimed to safeguard children, it was a traumatic experience for many. Separated from their families, children often faced unfamiliar surroundings, different dialects, and a temporary disruption to their education. Many experienced homesickness and struggled to adapt to their new environments.
As the war progressed and the threat of German bombings decreased, the need for large-scale evacuations diminished. By 1944, the operation was officially ended, and the children began returning to their families and urban areas.
Operation Pied Piper remains a significant chapter in British history. It represents the nation’s effort to protect its most vulnerable citizens during a time of war. The long-term impact of the operation varied for each individual. Some found it a positive experience while others struggled with the challenges and separation it entailed.
About the Author of “The Secret Book of Flora Lea”
About Andrea Peskind Katz from GREAT THOUGHTS, GREAT READERS:
Andrea Peskind Katz runs Great Thoughts, Great Readers, a Book Salon presented via her private FB group where approximately 5000 prolific readers and authors interact. She also founded Greatthoughts.com, a lifestyle website blog focusing on Great Books and Great Travel. To quote Robert Frost, she created her “second act” career to “unite my avocation and my vocation”. After 20 years in high-pressure sales, Andrea retired to spend time doing what she loves best: hanging with her family and reading good books.