As the cover on the large print copy of this book advertised, it is “a story of courage and strength.” If anyone is courageous and strong, it is a Girl Scout, or Girl Guide as they were called in England. Their motto was “Be prepared,” which the teachers and students at the China Inland Mission School were not. Unprepared as they were for Japanese occupation after the attack on Pearl Harbor, both teachers and students made the best of a bad situation.
Alternating chapters from the point of view of Nancy, an eight year old student, and her teacher, Miss Elspeth, Gaynor describes the take-over of the school housing and teaching children of missionaries, ambassadors, and other workers in China, then their march to and confinement in an internment camp for six years. It is a story of the hardships the children and teachers faced and their relationships with their captors, some kindly like “Home Run,” and others vengeful and sadistic like” Trouble.” It is the story of the friendship between Nancy (“Plum”) and Joan (“Mouse”), as they become young women while under the watchful eyes of the Japanese soldiers. One of the girls’ many chores was to deliver and pick up books to readers who borrowed them from the “lending library” set up by Ms. Trevellyan, a woman of questionable reputation in the camp. The following highlights the girls’ love of books:
“We sometimes found corners of the pages turned down, and passages marked and underlined. Mrs. Trevellyan didn’t seem to mind, although I thought it spoiled the books.
‘I’d never write in a book,’ I said. ‘It makes the pages look messy.’
‘It does if you look at it one way,’ she clucked as she put some books on the shelves we couldn’t reach. ‘But it also makes them look loved. It means that someone stopped and thought about that sentence, or that paragraph. Books aren’t museum pieces to be admired from a distance. They’re meant to be lived in; messed up a little.’ “
This is a very well-written page-turner that should make us appreciate what we have today and the struggles our relatives went through during WWII. It’s a darned good read!