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Illuminating historical novel sheds light on a hot topic of our times- The Irish Border
The third in a sequence of stand-alone historical novels, set at key points in the history of the divided island that is currently front and centre in Brexit negotiations, this could not be more topical and very possibly prescient in describing the situation in 1921 and the partition of Northern Ireland and the hard border which quite literally fractures communities. The author talks in the end pages of the book about growing up in this border area with the army and customs check points and how much the community enjoys today’s freedom of movement and is terrified of losing that. But this beautifully written novel is not an ‘issue’ novel, it is full of brilliantly realised characters and a pitch perfect evocation of the period. The story of the bold 14-year-old heroine, Polly and her struggles to find her way forward in life cleverly mirrors the struggles of the newly emerging country. She ran away to Belfast to escape of life of drudgery looking after the men in her family after her mother’s death from influenza. She finds refuge in Helen’s Hope, a feminist hostel where young women live and work together, a haven of tolerance and diversity in an area wracked with division and hatred. The non-partisan mission of this hostel sums up the greatest strength of this fascinating and moving novel in that it absolutely does not demonise either side, while being completely up front about the terrible things that are happening. There are bad, mean and cruel characters but this is not because of the ideologies they follow, but because some people are like that, and we even get insights into why that might be. The second book in this sequence, Star by Star, went on to become the best selling book ever from this small imprint and won Children’s Books Ireland’s Honour Award for Fiction 2018. I can see similar accolades for this ‘sister’ novel and can highly recommend all three (the first being Name Upon Name) as invaluable purchases to support the history curriculum, but absolutely as engaging reads for pleasure too.
Some background to the book; Hope against Hope is the third of this trio of historical novels published to coincide with commemorations of Ireland’s ‘Decade of Centenaries’. The novel is set in Belfast at the time of the foundation of the Northern Irish state. After years of war and civil war, communities are torn apart by bitter hatred – and now a hard border that splits the island.
Helen’s Hope in Belfast is a hostel for girls, a feminist and non-sectarian space – a haven of tolerance and diversity in a fractured city. Polly runs away from her unhappy home life (her mother died in the Spanish Flu epidemic and her brother hasn’t been the same since he returned from fighting at the Front) and finds refuge in this community of young women living and working together. But there are people who hate Helen’s Hope and its progressive values. How can a few girls stand up to this – especially when some of the hatred comes from within their own walls? And when the hostel itself is violently attacked, how can Polly keep hope alive?
Nothing could be more apposite at this moment than a novel about how hard borders and political division drive wedges into the hearts of communities.
The year is 1921. Ireland has been at war for two years. Communities are torn apart by bitter hatred - and now a hard border splits the island.
In Belfast, Helen's Hope hostel is a progessive space where young women live and work together - a haven of tolerance and diversity in a fractured city. But some people hate Helen's Hope and its values. Another pitch-perfect historical novel from the prize-winning author of Star by Star.
‘I devoured this book in one furious reading session. It’s a stunning snapshot of Belfast’s past which really speaks to the city’s present. Funny, moving and full of wisdom, Hope Against Hope shows Sheena Wilkinson is a writer at the top of her game.’ — Jan Carson, author of The Fire Starters, winner of the EU Prize for Literature 2019
|Publication date:||5th March 2020|
|Suitable for:||11+ readers, 13+ readers|
|Genres:||Family / Home Stories, General Fiction, Historical Fiction|
Sheena Wilkinson is one of Ireland’s most acclaimed writers for young people. Since the publication of the multi-award-winning Taking Flight in 2010, she has published several novels, including Grounded, which won the 2013 Children’s Books Ireland Book of the Year and Children's Choice awards. Her first historical novel, Name upon Name, set during the 1916 Easter Rising, was chosen as Waterford City’s ‘One Community, One Book’ title in 2016. This was followed by Star by Star, set at the time of the momentous 1918 General Election, when women in Ireland voted for the first time. This ...More About Sheena Wilkinson