My feelings towards this book have morphed both during the reading and afterward. This is quite unusual for me; I tend to know if I like something (or not) and time has not often changed my opinion (expect perhaps when I’ve re-read some of those Sweet Valley High books and realised they weren’t that riveting!).
At the beginning of this novel I was bewildered, whilst reading I was at times captured and at others frustrated, initially on finishing I was ‘meh’ and the longer I have spent away from it the more I respect and fondly recall it.
A Caramel Sky is in one aspect a family saga, and in another a historical coming of age tale. It introduces us to Grace and Charlie, two teens who are coming of age in the time of impending war. The novel follows them through their interlinked lives.
Set in New Zealand it offers a rich and deep tale of what life would have been like for young people during WWII. It is clear that Hazlehurst has researched this period and thoughtfully included both fine details (descriptions of clothing, food etc.) and actual historical events which makes for a compelling history lesson. I have no shame in admitting I learnt a lot about some of the (real) fears that New Zealander’s lived with during that time.
It’s also evident from the letters at the end of the book (sent from readers who in fact lived during those times) that her interpretation and retelling of this period is truthful. I also enjoyed the fact this the novel is ‘real’ and treats life with cool clarity, rather than rose coloured glasses.
My frustrations were mainly to do with some of the ‘clunky’ writing in places. It seems like a petty complaint because I was interested and involved in the characters lives – but at times I wished that the author took as much time to re-work and develop scenes as she obviously had with her research. When finishing the novel I also understood the initially bewildering introduction – perhaps a stronger editor would have been able to suggest ways to make this clearer.
That said, this is most definitely not a ‘bad’ review’, as I said – distance has made my heart grow fonder and although I might not recommend this book to a ‘critical’ reader, or suggest it’s studied as an example of excellent prose, I would definitely recommend it to those who love a ‘real’ historical novel, or who would like to learn more about New Zealand during the war without wading through heavy textbooks. It was an interesting change of pace, topic, and genre from my usual holiday reading and one that I now look back on with new appreciation.
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