by Kate Albus
It is 1940 and William, 12, Edmund, 11, and Anna, 9, aren’t terribly upset by the death of the not-so-grandmotherly grandmother who has taken care of them since their parents died.
But the children do need a guardian, and in the dark days of World War II London, those are in short supply, especially if they hope to stay together. Could the mass wartime evacuation of children from London to the countryside be the answer?
It’s a preposterous plan, but off they go– keeping their predicament a secret, and hoping to be placed in a temporary home that ends up lasting forever. Moving from one billet to another, the children suffer the cruel trickery of foster brothers, the cold realities of outdoor toilets and the hollowness of empty stomachs.
But at least they find comfort in the village lending library– a cozy shelter from the harshness of everyday life, filled with favorite stories and the quiet company of Nora Müller, the kind librarian. The children wonder if Nora could be the family they’ve been searching for. . . . But the shadow of the war, and the unknown whereaouts of Nora’s German husband complicate matters.
Reading about three ordinary children evacuated from London might be interesting. But if they’re three orphaned children who are using the evacuation as a secret plan to find a new family—well, that adds a whole new layer of excitement to the plot.
As I said above, the plot of A Place to Hang the Moon follows William, Edmund, and Anna as they try to find a suitable guardian following the death of their grandmother. While the story is predictable, and you’ll know who their new family will be, the story still has its own charms.
Edmund was my favorite character. His voice felt the most unique, and I loved his spunk. William and Anna were nice too. The relationship between the siblings felt realistic–though they probably got along too well, all things considered. Mrs. Muller also was well-developed. Beyond that, the rest of the side characters felt a little one-dimensional, but they didn’t get much page time to be explored beyond that.
As of late, I’ve realized that I really struggle with the “bad foster parent” trope. Yes, I realize that there are bad foster parents and that there were bad billets. But the portrayal of these characters is often one-sided or simply used as a plot device. Now, Albus did hint at a level of character development that would have provided some reason for the behavior of her bad billets, but it still felt a little too much like an ill-used troped. I do realize that my weariness with this trope is a personal opinion, but it did hinder my enjoyment of the novel.
I listened to the audiobook, and the narrator Polly Lee did a nice job. I was impressed by the fact that her voices for William, Edmund, and Anna didn’t sound too old, which happens sometimes with adult narrators. The audiobook was very nice to listen to.
Overall, A Place to Hang the Moon is a charming story. However, it was missing a certain “spark,” something particularly unique or memorable that would have made me enjoy it more.
A note for sensitive or younger readers. There is a scene where William and Edmund have to go ratting with the rest of the village boys. William and Edmund are both horrified and sickened by the prospect of having to kill rats by hitting them with old boards. William ends up killing two rats, and while details really aren’t given, the scene could unsettle more sensitive readers.
Cautions: one blasphemy; brief rude humor; while not a caution, see above note for sensitive/younger readers