Sophie, In Shadow
Thistledown Press, 2014. 238p. Gr. 6-9. 978-1-927068-94-6. Pbk. S15.95
In this solid historical fiction, 16-year-old orphan Sophie Pritchard, having lost her parents in the Titanic disaster, is taken in by an older cousin, Tom Grenville-Smith. a zoologist, and his wife Jean, an author, who work in Calcutta, India. Their older daughter is in England training to be a nurse while their younger daughter, 11-year-old Alex, welcomes Sophie to the Calcutta household, which is expertly run by an army of servants. Sophie mingles in this upper-crust English society, meeting the dashing Darius Mehta, Tom's Indian assistant, and the handsome Will Fitzgibbon, a convalescing war hero. She spends time with Jean's friend Alexandra David-Neel at her hermitage in the mountain wilderness near the Tibet border, where she learns to meditate and to place the dark Titanic memories behind her. A German spy is instrumental in the kidnapping of Alex but Sophie, Jean and Will rescue her from a remote monastery and the spy is executed. Sophie learns that Torn and Jean are British spies. Sophie's prescient visions increase in number and she is able to prevent the bombing of an English bandstand and a construction site for an English monument. Although some terrorists are apprehended, the insurgency is not over and Jean's British government contact, Major Bradley, recruits Sophie who is by now 18, as a spy.
Sophie is a strong, independent female character. especially for the times. Struggling against her horrific memories. Sophie strives to become well and to discern her role in life beyond the traditional wife/mother position. She sees the cruelty and inequality around her and is determined to thwart it. Although initially terrified of her visions. Sophie rises to the occasion and bravely both rescues Alex and the crowd near the bandstand, not to mention stands up to an officious bureaucrat who is determined to expose a conspiracy that doesn't exist. In the end, she subdues her "shadows- of memory.
Steady, supportive Jean cleverly hides her spy cryptanalyst role and whole-heartedly takes on the mothering of Sophie, a relative she has never met before. Both Major Bradley and Tom are solid British partisans who want India to reach independence in a non-violent way. The unconventional Alexandra was a real person whose honest striving for truth was a nettle in the sides of government officials. She plays the role of the modern feminist who can still relate to people like Sophie. The child Alex who revels in gruesome details and the drama surrounding her life, keeps the adults grounded and not too serious.
The setting of this novel is excellent and the reader will be easily drawn into the foreign sights, smells and tastes of the India of a hundred years ago. Dialogue is sharp and cleverly advances the plot and character development. A strong message about class inequality runs throughout the novel. Although some of the politics surrounding India's independence will be a stretch for the intended reader, the ominous news of WWI battles, the horror of the number of dead, and the personal sadness of losing friends to PTSD (or shell shock as it used to be known) set a sombre anti-war mood and will stir the hearts ofjunior high readers.
Thematic Links: WWI; India; Spies; Class Inequalities