Book review: War Babies by Annie Murray
Wartime is hard for any woman on the home front but when you are just sixteen and facing motherhood, the going can only get tough.
Annie Murray, the much-loved author of Chocolate Girls and a string of compelling ‘Birmingham’ novels, returns to enchant us with War Babies, an emotion-packed tale of ordinary families facing the uncertainties of life – and death – in the Second World War.
From the hardships of widowhood and the struggles of raising children to the ties of friendship and the unbreakable bonds of true love, Murray brings us a moving, sweeping saga of dreams, dramas and dilemmas.
Rachel Mills has a difficult start in life in 1930s Birmingham. When her father dies, knee deep in gambling debts, her mother Peggy must harden herself to make ends meet. Furious at her husband’s betrayal, her resentment at being turned into ‘a pauper’ is turned on her daughter.
Peggy has little room left for affection or warmth so Rachel learns from bitter experience that to escape her mother’s terrifying rages she must ‘keep a little secret part inside her locked away.’
Both mother and daughter work at the Rag Market in Birmingham, selling second-hand clothes or whatever they can find just to put a little food on the table. Peggy hates the market but Rachel grows to enjoy it and the work has a silver lining.
Because it’s there that she meets young Danny Booker, the boy with electric energy and compelling blue eyes. As they grow older, the friendship grows into something more and their innocent romance gives Rachel the care and comfort she has always craved.
But at just sixteen, as war breaks out, Rachel becomes pregnant. Despite her mother’s objections, they marry in haste but it isn’t long before Danny is called up. Left on the home front with a new baby and little else, Rachel must scrape by with the other residents of Sparkbrook.
As Rachel battles to cope on her own, she starts to fear that she will she end up as hard-hearted as her own mother… and if Danny ever makes it home, will he be the same boy she loved so fiercely?
War Babies, a tender romance with a warm heart, an authentic sense of time and place and a gritty streak of realism, is guaranteed to delight Murray’s ever-growing army of fans.
(Pan, paperback, £6.99)