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The Secret Book of Flora Lea

A Novel

by Patti Callahan Henry

The Secret Book of Flora Lea by Patti Callahan Henry X
The Secret Book of Flora Lea by Patti Callahan Henry
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  • First Published:
    May 2023, 368 pages

    Apr 2023, 368 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Jo-Anne Blanco
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I highly recommend this unforgetable novel
Thanks to Atria Books & NetGalley for a digital advance reader's copy. All comments and opinions are my own.

This book was everything I expected from Patti Callahan Henry. It’s a beautifully written, engrossing and unique story, with likeable characters, and even a bit of a mystery. This was a dual timeline between the 1940s and 1960s, centering on two sisters who are sent to the countryside through an evacuee program to avoid the bombing in London during World War II.

Fourteen-year-old Hazel tells her five-year-old sister Flora Lea a special story all their own. “The name of their new land came to Hazel right as prayer, a name that already existed, that had waited for them, a name of secrets, of the earth and its rivers, just like the two sisters: It’s called Whisperwood and the River of Stars.”

The stories always began in the same way: “Not that long ago and not so far away, in a land that is right here,” Hazel whispered into the dark, “there was a land where anything could happen, where we might become anything we wish, where a river of stars runs through its woodlands. Keep your eyes open for hidden doorways! They’re everywhere, but visible only to those who are worthy. And we are worthy.”

Trish Todd, VP & Executive Editor of Atria Books, says that author Callahan “has poured all the love of books into this novel, illuminating how we tell ourselves stories to protect the ones we love, to keep our memories of them alive, and to seize onto the hope that imagination and storytelling can offer.”

This is an unforgettable novel that I highly recommend.

Good choice for book clubs
The Secret Book of Flora Lea by Patti Callahan Henry begins in WWII with the evacuation of London’s children to escape the Blitz. Hazel and Flora are among the evacuees, leaving their mother and traveling to the safety of a small village in the North.

To help ease her younger sister’s fears and homesickness, Hazel tells Flora tales of their imaginary place – a secret place she has created for them and them alone. Her belief in their fantasy world comforts Flora and allows the little girl to begin to settle into her new home and life. Then the unthinkable happens, Flora disappears and is never found.

Moving forward to the 1960’s, Hazel, still suffering from guilt and grief over Flora’s disappearance, encounters illustrations from a published children’s book. The book’s tale is eerily like those Hazel told Flora during the war, yet no one but the girls knew of their imaginary world of Whisperwood. Hazel begins a search for answers, desperate to discover the book’s author and how she knows of Whisperwood. Could the author be the long-lost Flora?

I found myself cheering for Hazel as she encountered dead ends and blocked attempts during her search for the book’s origins, and I admired her determination as she tried to find answers to what happened to Flora.
A quietly suspenseful book, The Secret Book of Flora Lea is a welcome addition to the current list of published World War II fiction. The story of London’s evacuated children during the Blitz is not well known in the U.S., and I think Henry’s book should be read by any fan of this genre. It would be excellent as a book club choice, and I’m grateful to NetGalley and Atria Books for providing a copy to review.
prem singh yadav

The Secret Book of Flora Lea
Patti Callahan Henry is the author of the book "The Secret Book of Flora Lea". Hazel and Flora, two sisters who are relocated to a small English village during World War II, are the focus of the narrative. As a way of escaping the harsh reality of war, Hazel, who lives with a caring family, writes a fairy tale for her younger sister, Flora. Tragically, Flora disappears along the river, and Hazel assumes responsibility for her sister's disappearance.

Twenty years later, Hazel is prepared to leave her position as an employee at a rare bookstore and is residing in London. Her situation changes when she receives a package containing the picture book "Whisperwood and the River of Stars." This book has significance.
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