I’ve been on an unintentional historical fiction hiatus lately but decided to dive back into it once I read the synopsis of Patii Callahan Henry’s upcoming release The Secret Book of Flora Lea. I’m so glad I decided to read this book because while it’s not actually a magical realism or fantasy story, it was pure magic to follow along on Hazel’s search for her sister.
Caught in the middle of Operation Pied Piper, which sought to get the British children outside of major cities, Hazel and her younger sister Flora find themselves housed outside of Oxford. Without their parents or their usual surroundings, Hazel and Flora find comfort in Hazel’s stories of a fictional world where they can be anything and do anything. After Flora disappears, Hazel gives up storytelling and lets the guilt of not protecting her sister haunt her. 20 years later, when Hazel stumbles upon a children’s books from America, she discovers the world she created for Flora within it’s pages. Hazel will stop at nothing to unearth where the author discovered her stories and is convinced that the answer is the key to finding her sister.
I loved this story. Told mainly from Hazel’s perspective both in 1960 and at the height of WWII, we get two equally engaging and interesting timelines. The way these two timelines flowed together was seamless, and I found the 1939-1940 timeline to have an almost magical aura to it; which is fitting since this is when we really learn about the world of Whisperwood that Hazel has cultivated. While this isn’t a fairytale, there is a certain fantasy/fairytale quality to the writing that fits perfectly with the story. We do get some scenes from other POVs as well, but Hazel’s is the primary.
Character wise, our main cast of characters are great. We mainly get to know Hazel as she’s our only narrator for the story, but I still felt as if I got to know all the other characters just as well.
While this story is mostly fiction, it does try to tie in some historical facts, which made the story seem well researched. Touching on themes of grief, loss, family, and the lingering effects of war, Callahan has put together a masterful story about Operation Pied Piper. With an added emphasis on the impact of storytelling & the magic that stories bring (especially during turbulent times) this was a joy to read.
We had a hard week & I needed something to fully escape into that was not only wonderfully written but that was both heart wrenching & heartwarming. The Secret Book of Flora Lea was the perfect escape for me and I definitely recommend it.
The Secret Book of Flora Lea comes out May 2, 2023. Huge thank you to Atria Books for my advanced copy in exchange for my honest opinion. If you liked this review please let me know either by commenting below or by visiting my instagram @speakingof.books.