Five years ago, at the start of WWII, timid seven-year-old Virginia was sent across the ocean to live with Americans so that she would be safe from the bombing of England. Now the war is over and a rambunctious, strong-willed twelve year old, nicknamed Rusty, is more than a little nervouse about rejoining the family she barely remembers.
Life in post-WWII Britain is hard. Rusty is not prepared for the extent of the rationing, or the cultural impacts on the people who lived through the war. When her military father comes home, his gruff demeanor and insistance that children should be seen and not heard run counter to all of the ideas and cultural mores she picked up in her very liberal foster family. When she is packed off to boarding school things only get worse. The differences in subjects being taught mean that she is always made to feel stupid. Her accent sets her apart, and the other girls can sometimes be mean. It’s not long before Rusty feels that she is at her wit’s end. But if she runs away, where will she go?
This book had many characters that felt very real to me. I especially liked that many of the minor characters felt fully developed. I could easily see the impact of the war on Rusty’s younger brother and on others. Rusty’s mother is a fascinating story in herself, as she struggles with the transition from war-time auto mechanic to post-war complacent housewife. Rusty herself was not a perfect person, but it is easy to sympathize with her shortcomings. Her refusal to even attempt to assimilate is understandable, even as it is frustrating.
Although the divide between England and America is far to sharply drawn – excused by the author with the explanation that the family Rusty stayed with was unusual even by US standards – this is still an excellent look at the cultural disconnect that occurs even when the same language is spoken. The afteraffects of the war is sharply evident in every word and action of the characters, creating a setting that is almost tangible.