An emotional read. Rowan is 13 and it's 1939. The Second World War has just started. The country is gripped by paranoia and fear. Fears of German spies are running wild. Thoughts of threat of invisible killer gas attacks and wondering when the bombs will start to fall occupy the minds of the nation. This is a very bad time to be exhibiting the first signs of schizophrenia as young Rowan does. After an incident where he violently breaks three of his sister's fingers with a piano lid followed by another incident with a knife, the boy is admitted to a place which promises to put him to rights. Unbeknown to his family, he is soon used as an experimental test subject in the use of a new process being trialled in Italy. Electroconvulsive therapy.
The book is extremely well handled with some great characters. I loved Dorothea. But there are other fascinating characters to get to know like Doctor Von whose psychological journey is almost as traumatic as some of his test subjects. The passages where the Nazis' policy is revealed to Doctor Von for killing children who are institutionalized disabled or mentally ill by compulsory euthanasia are truly chilling.The story has some clever parallels with The Wizard of Oz, and the physical performance of Peter Pan as the Christmas pantomime has a profound affect on many of the troubled inhabitants of the psychiatric hospital. Very compelling and memorable. There are two other books by Julie Hearn that are about Rowan's mother and grandmother. I shall seek them out.
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