Back Home – UK Reviews
Winner of the American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults 1984
West Australian Young Readers Book Award 1987
“The origin of Back Home can be found in a short episode in Michelle Magorian’s previous novel Goodnight Mister Tom, when William, the now robust evacuee, briefly goes back to his mother in London, where he had been the diminutive Willie. His mother challenges him: ” ‘ I wasn’t expecting such a change in you.’ Willie was puzzled. He thought it was his mother that had changed.” So in Back Home, when the little girl who was Virginia comes back from America five years later calling herself Rusty, her mother is barely able to grasp the nature of the change: ” When she evacuated from England in 1940, she had been small and quiet, with spindly legs, a far cry from the twelve-year-old girl who now stood in front of her, tall, robust and tanned, with thick long hair and intense green eyes.” When Rusty returns her father is still in the Army in the Far East, her mother is preoccupied with her work for the WVS, and no one is interested in Rusty and her time abroad. Moreover, her Americanized character is offensive to English society. The spirit of independence, inherited from her mother but fostered by America, refuses to let her retreat before what she regards as arbitrary authority, particularly that of her paternal grandmother and the boarding-school she is sent to. And when her father returns, she forthrightly opposes his military approach to family discipline. Eventually she attempts to run away, from school, from family, and from England.
In shifting our attention from evacuation to repatriation, Magorian herself moves from a simple historical novel to something more ambitious. Where in Goodnight Mister Tom the relationship of William and Mister Tom dominates our attention, in Back Home, though many of the peripheral characters are well drawn, the antagonism between Rusty and the cold society in which she feels alienated though not alien forms the centrepiece. The episodes at Rusty’s school are the most successful and compelling in the book. Without the automatic acceptance that such schools and their traditions are inherently a good thing.
Rusty is first appalled by and then as a result falls victim to the rigid caste system and endemic snobbery of the English public school: the book is a powerful antidote to the tradition in children’s literature that glorifies such establishments.
Rusty is condemned by her teachers not for being ignorant, but for being ignorant of English ways, English history, English artists and English literature. Despite the war, Britain is still an isolated, introspective, xenophobic society when Rusty returns, and despite another forty years these attitudes and the schools that foster them remain, all of which makes Back Home an eminently approachable and interesting book for children of Rusty’s age.”
TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT Peter Blake
“Saga of a twelve-year-old evacuee returning to England from America in 1945, it contrives to be both a school story and a drama of family life, a lovely long book which holds attention through the author’s sure touch in creating a gallery of unspeakable authoritarian adults.”
THE TIMES Brian Alderson
“A returned American evacuee dubbed Rusty, is the heroine of this splendid book. Rusty, a timid seven-year-old at the start of the war, has acquired a wholesome and boisterous personality in Connecticut. It doesn’t go down too well with the hidebound English. ‘ Don’t you dare speak to me in that manner, young lady!’ she is told, on more than one occasion. Troubles accumulate for the sturdy girl whose heart, not to mention the ribbons in her glossy dark-red hair, is certainly in the right place. Very showy and breezy, and full of transatlantic vigour to offset the drabness of post-war England.”
THE OBSERVER Patricia Craig