Poppy by Mary Hooper

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Bloomsbury, 2014. ISBN 9781408827628.
(Age: 12+) Recommended. World War 1, Women, Class distinctions. It is 1914, England and Poppy is dismayed to realise that she won't be going to the grammar school but will become a servant at the big house. She is the type of person who makes the best of what happens to her, but it is a time of great change and this will affect everything that she does. Poppy finds herself falling in love with someone unsuitable who would never be able to marry her and when she is given the opportunity to join as a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse she grasps the chance to learn.
I am a fan of Mary Hooper's writing and have loved all her books. Her historical research is impeccable and she brings to life the attitudes and way of living of her characters so that the reader becomes immersed in the period that she is writing about. She also has wonderful young women as her main characters and this is true of Poppy, who is an intelligent, determined girl.
The novel is set in a time of great change for women and for the working class Through Poppy's eyes we find out about what it was like to be a parlour maid, the restrictions that class put on what such a girl could and couldn't do and then the problems and hard work that it took to become a VAD nurse. The only reason that she was able to join the VADs was because her ex-teacher sponsors her with an allowance, as it was a voluntary position. She works alongside girls from privileged backgrounds, all on an equal footing as volunteers. Her romance with her employer's son Freddie seems to blossom as she leaves her employment, but the reader knows that it will always be a difficult road to travel.
The horrors of war are also vividly described as Poppy starts to nurse the wounded soldiers that are returning from France. Their courage and humour shines through the misery of trauma and missing limbs. Through her brother's letters, the reader is given a glimpse of what it was like in the trenches and then what it was like to be a deserter.
I read this book in one sitting, enthralled with the strength of the main character, Poppy, as she learnt to nurse and to navigate affairs of the heart and the horror of war.
The reader is left with Poppy applying to work as a VAD nurse in France or Belgium. There is a sequel to come, Poppy in the field which I am looking forward to reading.
Pat Pledger