Nina Bawden's 1973 YA story is related with the ring of an authentic WWII memory. One of several books to be inspired by the evacuation of hundreds of London children during the Blitz, Carrie's War appears at first glance to be the experiences of Carrie Willow and her younger brother, Nick, during the long separation from their mother (and father in the Navy). Their wartime odyssey takes them, along with many other evacuees, to a remote mining town in Wales, where the land is devastated by mining interests rather than bombs.
Albeit safe, their life is far from soft in the home of the rigid and
arrogant Councillor, Mr. Evans--their reluctant host. Bullying and mean he seems to relish his role as an ogre; supercilious, stingy with his resources and self-righteous in religious matters, he expects the siblings
to toe the line and cower respectfully in his presence. No deviation from duty and gratitude will be tolerated. The only softening influence in the household is provided by his younger sister, Aunty Lou, who meekly submits to her tyrannical brother. Carrie and Nick soon grow to love her, as they secretly pity her suffocated existence.
Luckier in his Welsh billeting his fellow travelers, tall and scholarly Albert Sandwich is sent to stay at a home in Druid's Bottom--near a forest of ancient yew trees--which local reputation whispers about magical or mysterious undertones of past centuries, when the Celts practiced "the old religion." He stoutly denies that his hostess, Miss Hepzibah Green, is a witch, though she fascinates the children with
her tale of a screaming skull and its curse.
Disguised as a modest YA story Carrie's War actually proves a psychological novel, with plenty of dialogue to maintain teenage
interest, plus mystery and complex human emotions to stimulate more mature readers. Most of the book consists of detailed flashback on the siblings' sojourn in Wales. We soon realize that Carrie is now a mother of several children herself, who has undertaken a sentimental journey with them to revisit the sights which made such lasting impressions
on her 12-year-old mind some thirty years ago. Alas, Carrie is haunted by what she considers her great, immature crime: "it was all my fault," she confesses in anguish, though there was none to condemn her.
She has voluntarily shouldered a heavy burden of guilt, although her adult mind rejects the role of her impetuous, thoughtless action and a legendary curse. Then too she is torn with doubt re the role of Mr. Evans in the disappearance of his older sister's will. "Miss Heart and Mr. Head," as Hepzibah nicknames her and Albert, were united in their love and compassion for her and her mentally-challenged ward, Mr. Johnny. Carrie comes of age in this excellent and fascinating story.