Wrap a cherry in dark chocolate and you’ve improved both the cherry and the dark chocolate. Weave accurate history into a good story and you’ve improved both the history and the story.
L. M. Elliott in Across a War-Tossed Sea does just that in her middle grade novel that begins on Labor Day 1943 just east of Richmond, Virginia. Charles and Wesley Bishop, two of the lucky group of children able to flee the German bombings in London, come to America to live with the Ratcliff family. Charles, as the oldest, bears the burden of being father, mother, and big brother to Wesley as well as rising to the challenge given by British officials as they leave to "be good little ambassadors for England.”
Wesley struggles with hallucinations and nightmares recalling the Nazi submarine bombings of the ships in their convoy at night. In daylight, he waffles between wanting Charles’s protection and his independence as he strategizes how to deal with bullies.
The boys are drawn into community activities – salvaging items to use in the war effort, playing football games, collecting milkweed pods to stuff life preservers, and creating the Halloween haunted house.
Their English background causes problems as Wesley learns capitals of states that have little meaning to him, loses out on the spelling bee when he uses the English spelling of n-e-i-g-h-b-o-u-r instead of the American n-e-i-g-h-b-o-r, and sometimes has his intent brought into question because of the difference in British and American meanings for words.
Interwoven with their personal stories are difficulties around them. There are war related challenges to daily life. Prejudices between those who share a language but not a nationality, toward native Americans who were here first, and especially against the Negros living in the segregated community accurately influence the characters in the story.
A good story with history that rings true makes this quite right for a historical fiction fan like me. I think I'll celebrate with a chocolate covered cherry.