Friday, January 8, 2016

Lizzie and the Lost Baby by Cheryl Blackford, 2016

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Cheryl Blackford's debut novel is set in England during World War II and told from the dual perspectives of ten-year-old Lizzie, a homesick girl evacuated from bomb-blitzed Hull to the remote Yorkshire valley, and Elijah, a local gypsy boy. When Lizzie discovers an abandoned baby, her dangerous friendship with Elijah is put to the test. Will Lizzie be able to find the baby's parents? And if she does, can she and Elijah remain friends in a world clouded by prejudice and fear?
(192 pages)


First things first: the teaser is pretty much entirely misleading. Lizzie and the Lost Baby is not the story of a girl who befriends a gypsy boy, discovers a baby, and finds their friendship threatened as they hunt for the child's parents; it's the story of a homesick girl who finds a baby in a field, a troubled gypsy boy whose arm was twisted into leaving his sister in that field, and the world of hurt and prejudice that lies between what's right (bringing the baby back to her family) and what's easy (leaving her with Lizzie's foster mother, who thinks the child is her own dead toddler). It's a story about people who are blinded by prejudice, and about the extremes children sometimes have to go to in order to get around the twisted decisions made by the adults.

The storyline did sometimes feel a little contrived - the adults especially struck me as being rather one-dimensional (they seriously don't think twice about stealing a baby? And they refuse to discuss the morality of such a choice with Lizzie when she thinks it should go back to its birth family?). Part of that, though, could be that they are presented from the point-of-view of a ten-year-old. Little girls aren't exactly known for presenting very nuanced views of adults, are they?

My other main question about the story is about the relationship between the Gypsies and the townspeople. I know absolutely nothing about this aspect of life in England during WWII (I don't know much of anything about Gypsies in general, to be perfectly honest), so I was shocked by the horrible bias the English people had toward the Gypsies, basically making them out to be terrible scoundrels who were less than human. This level of prejudice is upsetting in anyone, but even more startling when it's during WWII but taking place in England, rather than Germany. I guess I have to assume it's an honest depiction, though I'd like to imagine Blackford got it wrong.

Lizzie and the Lost Baby is a small book, only 192 pages with pretty large font, and it's not a very complex book in terms of storylines - there's pretty much only one, focused around a few fairly well-developed children and some rather one-dimensional adults, and the novel follows it from beginning to end without weaving in too many other subplots. I found it a little too quick a read for my tastes, but can see it being a great book for middle-school kids not ready for more complex, hard-hitting books about life for minority groups during WWII. Honestly, I think most of my issues with the book can be explained away by the fact that I'm used to expecting more: more meat, more complexity, more depth. I forget that this is a book that kids as young as nine or ten could read, and that for them it's actually quite thought-provoking. This could be quite a conversation starter about prejudice and moral choices (and, for that matter, when it's permissible for kids to disobey authority figures).

You'll have to check it out for yourself, but I'd suggest this book for children just starting to learn about prejudice and discrimination, and basic human rights. I wouldn't, though, go out of my way to recommend it to teens or adults - it's just not meant for older readers. I'll be keeping an eye out for Blackford's future books, though: if this is her debut, I can't wait to see what she'll come up with next.

Disclaimer: I received a complementary ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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