Whenever publishers or authors ask us to review particular books I personally hesitate. I’ve said this quite a few times in my previous posts. Reading is something I derive pleasure from. It is both a passion and a hobby that relaxes me. When one is asked to review a book and one accepts, reading then becomes an obligation. If it’s a good book then the reading process reverts back to being a pleasurable experience, but when it’s a “bad” book or a book that doesn’t suit my taste, it becomes a chore. But I’m one of the lucky ones, so far the books I’ve had an opportunity to review were good books even if they were outside my comfort zone. Hurn’s book is no exception. Kate Barber of Chalke sent me two books by Roger Hurn and I promised to read and review one, I chose Once there were Lions because of its title. It had a nostalgic ring to it that spoke to me.
“I can still see it in my mind as plain as day. I turned the corner of Rolt Street and headed up Cold Harbour Lane. I hurried on past the warehouse to the wasteland where we had our secret hideout. Only the wasteland wasn’t there anymore. There was just a big hole in the ground where a German plane had dropped a tonne of high explosives.”
The novel is short and revolves around the lions–5 friends (Billy, Thomas, Rosie, Simon and Eddie) who found themselves in the midst of World War Two. Back then, children from London were sent to far flung provinces to keep them safe. Some were sent to relatives while others were sent somewhere in the hopes that someone could take them. The story begins with how the Lions met and how after five years, when the war came to a halt they find themselves together again in their now fallen den.
Each chapter of the book focuses on the lives of each of the lions and how they led their lives in the five years they’ve been separated. The experiences they’ve been through change them and their reunion isn’t completely a happy one. I enjoyed this book in its presentation of the stories and in its poignancy. I like how the lives of these 5 kids are interwoven in the war. When Hitler gained power in Germany and waged war against the world, lives were changed. It wasn’t just the Jews that suffered, so did the countries that went to war against Germany. Once there were Lions offers another perspective into this tragic history of humanity and I think the author was successful in offering a fresh look into this period in our history.
However, I did feel that the book was cut too short. I felt there could be at least two more chapters to synthesize the experience. I appreciate the abruptness and how the open ending and the way it lingered that the Lions were now gone and will never get together. I love how Hurn hints on the growing attraction between Rosie and Billy. The author does this without being cheesy or cliche. It felt like a slight blush on the cheek. I like how the characters grow, despite the few pages of the novel. And you see the growth, not just in the physical description but in the interaction as well. Hurn puts tension where it needs to be. I like that he is brief and engages the reader to read between the lines, but I wanted more. Not too much, just a little bit more to make the story feel like a real novel and not a short story. I associate his abrupt and brief ending to a short story more than to a novel, but maybe that’s just preference.
Once there were Lions deserve its space in any child’s (or even adult’s shelf). The story is simple but beautiful. It offers a historical perspective, as well as an understanding of the lives of children during those times. This can be a nice companion book to the usual Diary of Anne Frank in discussing the effects of war to young children. The book is essentially a story that is set in war and tells us of the obstacles each child had to face as he lives away from home. Thanks Kate Barber for introducing this book to me. I don’t regret taking on the task of reviewing this book.