4 out of 4 stars
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River Kids, written by Jennie Linnane, is a historical fiction novel set in Australia in the mid-twentieth century. It could also be considered a coming-of-age story as it is told from the perspective of Annie Hughes and covers her entire childhood until she is on the threshold of adulthood and her dream of becoming a nurse. Annie is the second of nine children born to Jack and Margo Hughs. Although Annie was born shortly before Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, the Hughs children were insulated from the war in their home at Oyster Bay. This village-like community is the backdrop to an engaging story of the growing Hughs family in an evolving period of history after World War II.
What I liked most about River Kids was its cast of memorable characters. Jack, Annie’s father, was portrayed as a hard-working chef and a fun-loving practical joker with a peculiar sense of humor. Margo, Annie’s mother, was also a hard worker characterized by a soft heart, kind spirit, and practical nature. Their flaws were not hidden but rather added to the authenticity of the story as they faced the consequences of their moments of anger, jealousy, and pride. It was a pleasure to read about the family’s interactions with the people of the community, such as Fast Fred, Humphrey Smithers (Smitto), Mrs. Next Door, Ruthie, and Sister Agatha. Readers will laugh at the fun, be entertained by the tomfoolery, be frightened by the close calls, and feel sadness at the losses experienced by this family and community.
In addition to the authentic characters, I loved the historical elements interwoven with the story. Family gathered around the “wireless” to hear the programs, which was later replaced by the television. Their food was stored in an ice chest with periodic ice delivery. When their needs exceeded the capacity of the ice chest, they upgraded to a refrigerator. Picnics and boat outings were great entertainment, as was exploring the outdoors. New technology of the kerosene heater and the washing machine brought ecstatic happiness to Margo. The death of King George VI brought sadness to the family and community, whereas Johnnie Ray, Elvis, and Marilyn Monroe were sensations.
I have no criticism to offer, other than my sadness about the seed of discontent that grew between the Hughs family and their neighbors next door. Unfortunately, they never could reconcile their differences and become friends, and this eventually led to the Hughs selling their beloved home. However, this also contributed to the authenticity of the story.
River Kids appears to be professionally edited as I found no grammatical errors and only a few punctuation mishaps such as missing or extra periods or commas. I highly recommend this book to those who enjoy stories of family relationships and the nostalgia of a world in simpler times. For its historical accuracy, relatable characters, and excellent presentation, I award 4 out of 4 stars.
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