Fliss and her mum move from London to a Welsh farm to live with her spiky grandmother Margot so that her mum can recuperate from cancer. When Fliss discovers Margot’s wartime diary, she learns about her grandmother’s life as an evacuee, and the secrets that have shaped her. As Fliss struggles to settle in to her new school, the diary’s a welcome escape.
I’d been looking forward to reading Margot and Me since finding a taster chapter in a goody bag last December. I’d liked the main character Fliss, funny and believable, and was intrigued to see my era of CD Walkmans and Friends episodes brought to life. (Weird that my own recent past is now historical fiction…) So I was delighted that the book delivered on the promise of the extract and was thoroughly enjoyable.
The dual timeline works really well as both strands of ‘present day’ (the 1990s) and wartime were so compelling. If anything, I’d have liked the evacuation story to push further into the book as I was completely hooked. War finally coming to the Welsh countryside was shocking and effective because I believed in all those characters. The touches of historical context were lightly done, as was the Welsh setting.
I’ve read a lot of books where the main character is shipped off to stay with an unfamiliar or grumpy relative but this felt really fresh. My only criticism would be that personally I didn’t need the dance element, but this is a minor gripe in such a rich set of themes, characters and relationships. I’ve passed it on to one of my teenagers as an insight into what life might have been like for his late grandmother who was evacuated at the same age as Margot (with a little less drama!).
There’s depth to this book – I’m hesitant to spoil the story by revealing the many layers but there’s so much to enjoy in there and think about. But be warned – this book is MOVING. I dissolved into sobs at chapter 26 on public transport. You will definitely need tissues.
Juno Dawson’s Margot And Me is a terrific, page-turning book for senior school kids and beyond.