The Orchard on Fire – Shena Mackay

This book belongs to a genre showing us childhood from a child’s perspective. They always remind me how different the world looked then. How even now when I look at my memories I automatically apply the adult perspective to them. But when I focus I can recall not only the facts but also how they felt to a child. And this is what this book does very well. 

It is one of the books that I picked from a box my neighbors put in front of their house one Saturday in February. It was probably one of the first days this year when I felt a bit more hopeful. I finally felt that things will turn better at some point. 

It was a completely random pick, I really didn’t know anything about it before. But I needed some adventure to break the routine of lockdown and this felt like a good idea.

April Harlency, our narrator, is a daughter of a couple of publicans. Her family previously run a pub in London but decided to move to Kent and take over running a local cafe. As soon as they come April meets fiery Ruby and they become friends. We discover the neighborhood through their experiences. 

The book is a mix of regular childhood events, such as finding a nice hideaway, trying to avoid unwanted family events, or dealing with school drama. But we also get a glimpse of the family life of both girls, which really is far from peaceful for Ruby. April on the other hand is a very happy and relatively shielded child at home. But it then makes her incapable of dealing with the creepy advances of Mr. Greenridge. She just does not expect evil and does not know how to tell her parents what is going on.

As days pass the drama on both fronts slowly builds up. Coming to a head and as we can expect making both girls grow up in the process.

I don’t want to spoil the plot for you, so I’ll stop here. But really the book is not so much about the plot, it is more about the quirky characterization and character development that Mackay keeps us hooked. The book has this weird mix of funny and scary, that really characterizes many of the childhood memories. The time when we wanted an adventure but were not so keen on the consequences. The time when the world felt so safe one second and so strange and hostile on other moments.

I’ll be very honest, while it was a nice book, I really don’t think it is the best of its kind. And it is a tricky thing to pull off an honest voice of a child and it succeeds in that, but not always in moving us and making us care.

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska

One thought on “The Orchard on Fire – Shena Mackay

  1. Pingback: Q1 2021 round-up –

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