Reviews /

Digging for Victory

Authored by Cathy Faulkner
Published by Firefly Press

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Digging for Victory is a new middle-grade verse novel set during World War Two. Bonnie’s older brother has joined the RAF and she wants to do her bit for the war effort, but the only way she can contribute is by growing vegetables, which she soon discovers is slow and tiring work. To make matters worse, the mysterious Mr Fisher been billeted with her family. Bonnie is forbidden from asking him any questions about his work but her classmates are convinced that he is a shirker and start referring to her home as the ‘chicken coop‘. Bonnie decides to investigate what Mr Fisher really gets up to every night, and in the process learns more about what it means to be a hero.

I thought this was absolutely brilliant. The plot is satisfying with some (for me, at least) unexpected twists, and the characters are compellingly drawn. In particular, Bonnie has a pretty tough time of things for much of the novel but all readers will be touched by her resilience and determination. There are lots of stories written for this age group about World War Two but Cathy Faulkner introduces readers to elements that may well be less familiar such as Land Girls, conscientious objectors, rag collections and decoy airfields. But these historical details are combined with a serious engagement with moral and emotional issues which are just as relevant now as then; in particular, Faulkner explores the natural desire we all feel to be recognised for our achievements, what it is like to have done something brave that must remain a secret, and how we may all be indebted to the courage and heroism of others without realising it.

I have read lots of verse novels for YA but Digging for Victory is the first I have read for this slightly younger age group, and the verse form feels integral to the book’s success. Mostly the poems are used to drive the plot forward but this form also allows for some short but powerful moments of description and reflection which help to show Bonnie’s emotional growth. In my experience, despite some pupils’ initial apprehensiveness about reading a whole book of poems, they end up finding verse novels immensely readable because of the smaller number of words per page and the immediacy of the poems. My hunch is that the carefully placed line breaks also aid expressive reading aloud. Faulkner takes this further with her playful presentation of words on the page to mirror Bonnie’s emotions, something which I think younger readers will enjoy and be keen to emulate in their own writing.

This playfulness extends beyond visual presentation to the use of language itself, for instance in the use of the word ‘digging‘: Bonnie finds herself doing far more types of digging than she initially expects and there is a lovely final reveal of what the title is actually referring to. Over the course of the novel, Bonnie also learns more about physics and electronics (‘I just wish that heroes used physics’, laments Bonnie at one point) and Faulkner reflects this through recurring imagery related to science.

To me, this book feels like a future children’s classic. It would make a great class reader for upper KS2 children with the potential for links to history and science; I would happily share it with Year 7 or 8 classes too as there is sufficient depth to reward close study.