Title: School for Skylarks
Author: Sam Angus
Series: – –
Genre: Children’s Fiction
Age Range: 9+
Available: 27th July
It is 1939. When Lyla is evacuated from her home in London to her Great-Aunt’s enormous house in the West Country, she expects to be lonely. She has never been to school nor had any friends, and her parents have been at the centre of a scandal. But with the house being used to accommodate an entire school of evacuated schoolgirls, there’s no time to think about her old life.
Soon there is a horse in a first-floor bedroom and a ferret in Lyla’s sock drawer, hordes of schoolgirls have overrun the house, and Lyla finds out that friends come in all shapes and sizes.
Source: ARC from Macmillan Children’s Books via NetGalley
Sam Angus is one of those authors I’d heard of, but never read. All the Michael Morpurgo comparisons sort of put me off because War Horse had such a big impact on me as a child, I couldn’t see how another author could compare.
I was wrong. So wrong. And although I can see where the Morpurgo comparisons came from, this book filled me with all the best Eva Ibbotson feelings – and that is an excellent thing.
Because this is an excellent book, fun at times, absurd at others and utterly, utterly heartbreaking. In some ways I think there’s a hint of Toy Story 3 about it, in that it might hit adults harder than children, simply because of nostalgia and memories and everything that gets bound up inside when you look back at school days from a distance.
Because unlike almost every other book about boarding school, Lyla struggles. Badly. She’s an unusual girl, barely educated, immature in some ways, rather too old in others. Her childhood thus far has been largely devoted to attending on her socialite mother, who doesn’t believe in schools or caring for her daughter or anything much except enjoying herself in London. But Lyla loves her. She is devoted to her mother, which makes it all the more painful when her father drags her off to Devon away from the dangers of war. Despite several escape attempts, Lyla gives into one of her impulsive moments and that’s how an entire school ends up on Great-Aunt Ada’s doorstep, invading everything.
There was so much to love about this book. Admittedly, Lyla herself is not entirely loveable. She’s rude, angry, self-absorbed and half-wild, at times, but I felt for her deeply because she so badly wants to fit in without knowing where to even start. And she is kind to Bucket, her ferret, and does regret her worst mistakes. Luckily for her, Great-Aunt Ada is wonderful. Everyone should have a great aunt like her. There’s also Solomon, the most unusual butler, and Cat, the greatest friend ever.
The story stretches out across the course of the Second World War, full of history, growing pains and the awful things girls can do to other girls. There were times when my heart hurt for Lyla, but then there were others where I couldn’t stop grinning. Ada is marvellous, and the letter planes were both wonderful and heartbreaking. The scene with Lyla in the tree really did feel as though it broke my heart, and yet I couldn’t stop laughing at the lesson in the kitchen.
And that’s the wonderful thing about this book. Even if, at the start, I didn’t like Lyla and wasn’t sure where this was going or how it would turn out, somehow it reached inside me and pulled out so many emotions. It’s a beautiful, heart breaking, joyful smile of a read and Sam Angus has a huge new fan in me.
School for Skylarks is out July 27th.
Visit Sam Angus for more details.