The Secret Book of Flora Lea
Author: Patti Callahan Henry
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Atria Books
Release Date: 2023
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: When a woman discovers a rare book that has connections to her past, long-held secrets about her missing sister and their childhood spent in the English countryside during World War II are revealed.
In the war-torn London of 1939, fourteen-year-old Hazel and five-year-old Flora are evacuated to a rural village to escape the horrors of the Second World War. Living with the kind Bridie Aberdeen and her teenage son, Harry, in a charming stone cottage along the River Thames, Hazel fills their days with walks and games to distract her young sister, including one that she creates for her sister and her sister alone—a fairy tale about a magical land, a secret place they can escape to that is all their own.
But the unthinkable happens when young Flora suddenly vanishes while playing near the banks of the river. Shattered, Hazel blames herself for her sister’s disappearance, and she carries that guilt into adulthood as a private burden she feels she deserves.
Twenty years later, Hazel is in London, ready to move on from her job at a cozy rare bookstore to a career at Sotheby’s. With a charming boyfriend and her elegantly timeworn Bloomsbury flat, Hazel’s future seems determined. But her tidy life is turned upside down when she unwraps a package containing an illustrated book called Whisperwood and the River of Stars. Hazel never told a soul about the imaginary world she created just for Flora. Could this book hold the secrets to Flora’s disappearance? Could it be a sign that her beloved sister is still alive after all these years?
As Hazel embarks on a feverish quest, revisiting long-dormant relationships and bravely opening wounds from her past, her career and future hang in the balance. An astonishing twist ultimately reveals the truth in this transporting and refreshingly original novel about the bond between sisters, the complications of conflicted love, and the enduring magic of storytelling.
My Review: During WWII, Hazel and Flora create an imaginary world called Whisperwood. One day, Flora disappears. Hazel continues to look for her but without any clues. Twenty years later, she discovers a book by Peggy Andrews that depicts their imaginary world of Whisperwood. Could Peggy be the long-lost sister that Hazel was looking for? Hazel sets out on a journey to find her missing sister.
Hazel is a very complex heroine. She was traumatized by the war and her sister’s disappearance. She is emotionally scarred. Throughout the novel, Flora must let go of the guilt that she had in her past. She must undergo both acceptance and healing. Thus, Hazel's journey was very emotional and heart-wrenching. While she made a few choices that I did not agree with, I found her to be a lovable and sympathetic character. I never stopped hoping that she would reunite with her sister.
Overall, this novel is about war, sisterhood, and trauma. I found all the characters to be very realistic. There were many twists and turns that were simply surprising and delightful. I loved the ending. I also like that the novel has a fairytale feel to it. It is very sentimental. It was also very moving and heartrending! The only thing that I disliked about the novel was that some of the scenes were drawn out. I think the novel could have been much shorter. Nevertheless, it was an enchanting and magical novel that will draw you in immediately from the first page. It also lingers with you long after you read the last page! I believe it is Mrs. Henry’s best work yet! I recommend this for fans of The Seven Sisters, The Lake House, and The Rose Code! The Secret Book of Flora Lee is a must read and one that you definitely will not regret picking up!
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars