hardcover, 288 pages
a review copy of this book was provided through TLC Book Tours
Set in England during World War II, Crooked Heart is the story of the odd shapes that love sometimes take. I like the title of this book because it works on two levels--the main characters have hearts that are warped by lost, but they are also "crooked" another way. The story begins with Noel Bostock, a ten-year-old orphan, living with his godmother in London. The godmother, Mattie, is an aged iconoclast who was once a suffragette; she suffers from dementia, and as her disease progresses, Noel works arduously to cover for her. Noel himself is a bit of a misfit: intelligent, but unpopular at school. When children begin to be evacuated from London during the Blitz, Noel is determined not to go, but after Mattie's death he has no choice.
Sent to the the countryside, Noel waits to be chosen by a family. But he's an unappealing child, and is finally taken in by Vee, a desperate single mother, only for the money provided by the government. But Vee and Noel turn out to have something in common, and they end up being a perfect team of con artists.
I loved the characters in this book, and the way that Lissa Evans made me love the characters without a single speck of sentimentality. In the end I was completely in love with Crooked Heart and its crooked, flawed, lovable people.
Evans quietly builds her narrative with unexpected detail and a delicious sense of irony. Vee is opportunistic and canny, and her reasons for taking Noel in are wholly selfish. But the reader begins to see how heroic and terribly flawed Vee is, and that makes her seem both real and admirable. She's tragically deluded about the character of her son, the product of an affair in which she was unceremoniously dumped. Vee has taken a lot of knocks in life, and she does what she has to to survive. Her ferocious survival instinct, and her continued capacity for love make her refreshingly complex. And Noel is just as complicated and in need of love and nurturing. They make an odd pair, but they do make a pair.
Crooked Heart is a quirky book, and I don't think I've fully conveyed its charm; let me just say that Crooked Heart surprised me, and in all the right ways. I highly recommend this novel for people who enjoy beautiful writing, a unique take on a familiar historical period, and a total lack of sentimentality. Despite the lack of sentiment, Crooked Heart is an emotionally powerful novel.