________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 7 . . . . October 14, 2011


Keeping Secrets. [Original title: Ellen’s Secret].

Jean Booker.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 1994/2011.
156 pp., pbk., $6.99.
ISBN 978-1-4431-0234-6.

Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Elaine Fuhr.

**** /4



“I don’t want to talk to you,” she said, turning her head away from him. He was the enemy. There were posters up all over the town telling people not to talk to the enemy. She thought the posters were stupid when the enemy was far, far away across the Channel. She never thought she’d ever meet one face to face, that she’d be trapped in the lavs with one, that she might even end up dying with one.

“It could be many hours before someone comes in,” he said. “It would be better if we could be friends.”

She bit her lip and didn’t answer. Then she felt him tapping her on the shoulder. She turned her head and looked at him. He was holding his hand out towards her.

“My name is Carl,” he said. “What is your name?”

She stared at his outstretched hand. It was black with soot and there were patches of dried blood crusted between his fingers. It’s Ellen,” she said, tentatively raising her hand to his.

“My name’s Ellen.”

Twelve-year-old Ellen is an ordinary girl living in a most unordinary time. Her home in northern England has been besieged by constant fear of air raids, and air raid sirens are a common voice in her daily life. World War II is raging, and children go to school with lunch boxes and gas masks. Ellen comes from a poor family, and there isn’t money for much, but her mom and dad love and care for her. Her best friend, Mavis, knows much more about the war than Ellen does because her dad is with the Home Guard. He hates the Nazis.

      Then one day, the war truly comes into Ellen’s life. Her dad was supposed to arrive home at the end of the day, but he did not. Suddenly, her mom leaves to be with her dad who has been injured in an air raid. Ellen doesn’t know if her father will live or die, but she must stay with their neighbor. A Nazi plane crashes close to their town, an event which sends everyone into a tailspin looking for the pilot and, possibly, another airman. It isn’t until Ellen becomes trapped in an outdoor “lav” or toilet with the downed airman that she realizes the shadows she kept seeing over the past few days were actually this very man. She learns that the enemy has as many fears as she does and as many secrets as she has to keep.

      The author, Jean Booker, lived in northern England during World War II, and so she has been able to write a truly believable story about a small town in England during the war, a period when people had to work together and depend on one another. Keeping Secrets explores the developing relationship between a young, impressionable girl and the young enemy airman who is supposedly to be feared. They help one another survive a critical situation, and Ellen learns that people are often not as they are portrayed.

Highly Recommended.

A retired teacher of elementary and middle school, Elaine Fuhr lives in Victoria, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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