“Secrets of a Charmed Life” By Susan Meissner,nNew American Library, 2015.
The London Blitz occurred from September 7, 1940 through May 10, 1941. The German Luftwaffe conducted heavy bombing of the city for 56 days out of the 57 immediately following September 7. This is the fictional story of a young woman’s battle to survive on her own terms during those terrible days. It is a very human story set during Hitler’s inhuman attempt to conquer the world – beginning with Great Britain’s great city.
The central figure is a 15-year old girl who pursues a dream with a dogged persistence despite set-backs that should have crushed her dreams. But with the same tough spirit that other Londoners applied to their survival during the weeks of the Blitz, Emmy keeps her eyes on her goal.
She is the daughter of a single Mom who is able to keep Emmy and her younger half-sister in a comfortable apartment in London’s East End neighborhood. The relationship between Mum and Emmy is strained, but good enough to get along. The half-sister Julia is satisfied with their life, but misses her happy-go-lucky father who is no longer living with them. Mum was not married to either of the girls’ fathers.
War seems imminent. It is the summer of 1940 and the government has ordered Londoners to evacuate their children to the countryside for safety’s sake. But many people don’t believe the threat of bombing over London can be real. Mum has kept the girls with her, believing they are safe where they are. In the meantime, Emmy has begun to realize her goal by getting a part-time job in a near-by bridal shop. She has a talent for sketching designs for wedding dresses and hopes to get an apprentice-ship with a professional designer.
However, when a second government order for children’s evacuation comes out Mum really has no choice but to send the girls into the country-side. Emmy won’t give up on her dream and runs away from their country guardian despite a positive and comfortable home. Julia insists on going with her. They arrive back in London on September 7, 1940, and the bombs begin to fall.
Author Meissner is a talented story-teller and she has done her research on the life and times of the British families during the Blitz. Small details like the lack of running water and popping sounds to be heard just before a bomb goes off add a realistic feeling to the story. Emmy’s exposure to dead bodies is also authentic and vivid. Her love for her little sister and her ambivalent feelings toward her mum are equally genuine.
Just as Meissner expertly shows the family ties and the family conflicts that exist because of and in spite of war-time she also describes the effects of the bombings themselves: fires and craters in the streets and hulks of destroyed buildings.
For readers who are new to the study of the Blitz, this is an excellent introduction to the “people” side of the story. It is suitable for male and female young people as well as adults.