Happy paperback publication day to Kate Thompson and ‘The Allotment Girls’! It is such an honour to be given the publication day slot on the blog tour, so I hope I do the author and PanMacmillan proud with my review. You may remember me reviewing Kate’s previous novel, ‘The Wedding Girls’, on my blog last year (#Tour! #Review – The Wedding Girls -Kate Thompson (@katethompson380) @panmacmillan @jessduffyy) which also made my ‘Top Books of 2017’ list, so of course I jumped at the chance to review her latest offerings. Please read on to see what I thought of ‘The Allotment Girls’, and whether this book will be making any lists of mine again this year:
The Allotment Girls is an inspiring and heartwarming novel of wartime hardship, friendship and fortitude from Kate Thompson, author of the Secrets of the Sewing Bee.
During the Second World War, life in the iconic Bryant & May match factory is grimy and tough. Annie, Rose, Pearl and Millie carry on making matches for the British Army, with bombs raining down around them.
Inspired by the Dig for Victory campaign, Annie persuades the owners to start Bryant & May allotment in the factory grounds. With plenty of sweat and toil, the girls eventually carve out a corner of the yard into a green plot full of life and colour.
In the darkest of times, the girls find their allotment a tranquil, happy escape. Using pierced dustbin lids to sieve through the shrapnel and debris, they bring about a powerful change, not just in the factory, but their own lives.
As the war rages on, the garden becomes a place of community, friendship – and deceit. As the garden thrives and grows, so do the girls’ secrets . . .
What does TWG think?
‘The Allotment Girls’ had me hooked straight away when the story begins with a jaw dropping situation which, if you’re into history, you will find that it is actually based on a real life event. Considering the nature of said circumstance, because I knew it was based on an event which happened many years ago, I found my heart hurting just that little bit more.
If you think this book is just about sowing seeds and tending to carrots, I would think again quite quickly. Whilst it is clear that several characters wish to sow their own ‘seeds’, there is a lot more to this storyline than fertiliser and potatoes. Set during the Second World War in a match factory, the author tells the story of the lives of four girls, Annie, Millie, Rose and Pearl. All girls with such different outlooks on life, yet all connected by one incredibly important thing – friendship. During the war, rationing was incredibly important, which meant that growing your own crops to help feed other families worse off than your own, became the focus of a lot of businesses around London at that time. How can growing your own crops change your life? Well, when it becomes the middle man between eating or starving, you would probably find that you would do anything for food. Or, in the four girls’ case, doing anything for friendship.
Out of all of them, I found myself warming to Millie a lot quicker than the others, as I am a lot like her in terms of her loose mouth! I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Rose and, once you read the book, you’ll understand why. As for Annie, I found her a lot more guarded than the other characters, yet she came across as the one with more common sense. Millie’s situation made me feel nauseous, I won’t lie! Then there’s Pearl – a character who I am having to sit on the fence for!
When I was reading this book, I became incredibly invested in all of the ‘minor’ details, allowing myself to be transported back to such a memorable moment in history. Because of those ‘minor’ details, when the book nearly finished I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to a certain item in the storyline. I have no idea why I thought about that particular item, but I did and I knew I wouldn’t rest until I had found out what happened. Thankfully, when all of the loose ends were tied up in the story, the item turned up which left me with a huge smile on my face. Even though it was such a small detail in the big scheme of things, it was a detail which brought such warmth to my soul when it became apparent what had happened to it. Very, very clever.
I honestly thought that Kate Thompson couldn’t outdo her previous novel, ‘The Wedding Girls’, with this book, but you know what? She absolutely did. The attention to detail throughout the entire storyline was absolutely incredible – I felt like I could smell what the characters were smelling. I felt like I could see the allotment where the girls had been working. I felt like I could sense the terror amongst the families, wondering whether their houses would get bombed in the night. There were times throughout the book where I felt that I could have cut the tension with a knife, and rightly so! A lot of this story was heartbreaking to read – I couldn’t even begin to imagine what those people went through during the war, yet Kate Thompson keeps the memory alive without making a mockery of it.
‘The Allotment Girls’, in my eyes, is exactly how books in this genre should be written. Full of intense situations, emotional moments, flashbacks to the past whilst hoping for the future, Kate Thompson has completely outdone herself where this book is concerned. I am so tempted to plant something in my garden, just so that I can watch it blossom like the author has blossomed in front of my very own eyes.
‘The Allotment Girls’ is a phenomenal portrayal of lives once lost, futures being crafted, and memories living on. Beautiful, poignant, heart-breaking yet exceptionally written, this book is by far one of my most favourite books of all time.
And you know what? I would give Kate Thompson a big hug if I could, but most importantly, I would give her the most beautiful packet of seeds….just because.
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