Set in World War One, this tightly plotted story is both moving and inspiring. Perfect for teens and adults alike.
It’s 1916 and 14 year old Angélique and her mother are struggling to keep the family farm running while their menfolk fight on a distant battlefield. When the Requisition soldiers visit a second time, claiming all the farm’s remaining livestock apart from their flock of Toulouse geese, Angélique thinks things can’t get any worse. But, of course, they do. Her mother is taken ill and Angélique discovers secret debts that threaten their home. The situation seems hopeless until Angélique and her Uncle Gustav hatch a plan that could save the farm: a plan that will require Angélique to embark on a long journey across France with the only thing they have left of any value – the geese.
The Goose Road is a moving and tightly plotted story that draws you in from page one and doesn’t let you go until the powerful climax. However, as you might expect from a novel that uses World War One as the backdrop, this is not a light-hearted read. Meticulously researched, the grim realities of wartime life are all here and described in such a way that we can see, hear and often smell them. Fortunately debut author, Rowena House, is mindful of her audience the powerful descriptions remain appropriate for a young teen audience.
While you might need to keep a box of tissues handy, the bleak aspects of life in war-torn France are offset with many uplifting moments. I couldn’t help smiling at the description of René distracting a goose to allow Angélique to steal her egg. And I wanted to cheer when Angélique stands up to a colonel when he tries to requisition the geese. Similarly, I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face when Angélique strides into the pub to implement her final desperate plan to save her home. (Sorry to say more could spoil this inspired climax).
The five star secret of this book isn’t, however, its strong plot and perfectly realised setting. Instead, it is the depth of characterisation that makes this book really stand out. The first person narrative brings us close to Angélique while her interaction with everyone she meets reveals an impressive attention to detail in even the most minor character. Many are cold and embittered from the war but in most we are able to see beyond this harsh exterior and understand the reason and motivation for their actions. Others are less sympathetic: for example, I am still cringing from the short scenes with the profiteer on the train. My heart warmed to Uncle Gustav and the conductor on the train who points Angélique in the direction of Paris and shares his sandwiches with her. However, neither can compete with my favourite character – the majestic gander Napoleon.
If you enjoyed this, I’d strongly recommend the short story collection War Girls by Adele Geras, Melvin Burgess, Berlie Doherty, Mary Hooper, Anne Fine, Matt Whyman, Theresa Breslin, Sally Nicholls and Rowena House. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a full length novel, why not try the classic Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo.
Date: April 2018
Publisher: Walker Books
Author: Rowena House
Review first published on The Bookbag