Helen Cresswell's Stonestruck is one of a handful of books I picked up second hand at the weekend. I'd never read anything by the author before. The book begins in London during the Blitz. The story centres around a girl named Jessica, who is evacuated to Welshpool when her home in London is destroyed by German bombs. The rest of her school will be following soon but, for a while at least, Jessica is sent alone down to Wales as her mother is going to the mysterious "Front" to be an ambulance driver. In the meantime, she is billeted at Powys Castle with only the housekeeper and gardener (Mr and Mrs Lockett) for company. Although Jessica soon finds that she is not as alone as she thinks and that the seemingly peaceful Welsh countryside isn't as quiet as she thought it would be.
Jessica finds herself hearing a Peacock screech and even sees it. Then she hears children's voices whispering her name. The story features a strange "Green Lady" and a group of "stonestruck" children who play an eternal game of tag; the children intend to catch Jessica and the other homesick evacuees from London who are billeted in the town. Jessica must draw on all her courage (even though she is convinced she is a coward) and use all her wits to discover what is going on, and work out how to save herself and the London children.
There is some gorgeous atmospheric writing in this book, such as:
"Jessica was in a world of mist. It seemed that she carried with her a private weather, unpredictable, strange. A mist could gather, chill and white, out of a clear blue sky. It would roll out of the dawn or float in pale wreath at twilight. And in that mist there were always children and strangest of all, those children knew her name."Also beautifully written are the descriptions of Jessica's initial sense of loneliness in a strange country (Wales couldn't be more different to London, and she finds Welsh a strange gabble the first time she hears it). Cresswell also pays attention to the smallest of details, such as when she describes Jessica spotting her yellow toothbrush in the bombed out remains of her London home. All in all, reading this book has encouraged me to seek out more stories by Cresswell (who died last year).