Book Review - We've Come to Take You Home by Susan Gandar

It is April 1916 and thousands of men have left home to fight in the war to end all wars. Jessica Brown’s father is about to be one of these men. A year later, he is still alive, but Jess has to steal to keep her family from starving. And then a telegram arrives – her father has been killed in action.

Four generations later, Sam Foster’s father is admitted to hospital with a suspected brain haemorrhage. A nurse asks if she would like to take her father’s hand. Sam refuses. All she wants is to get out of this place, stuck between the world of the living and the world of the dead, a place with no hope and no future, as quickly as possible.

As Sam’s father’s condition worsens, her dreams become more frequent – and more frightening. She realises that what she is experiencing is not a dream, but someone else’s living nightmare…

When I read the description for We've Come to Take You Home, I knew this was a book I wanted to read and I'm so grateful to Susan Gandar for sending me a copy in return for my review. After a brief but disturbing prologue the book opens in a familiar setting with a group of teenage girls meeting boys at a funfair, however, that rapidly changes when one of the girls, Sam experiences what can perhaps be best described as a time slip, and finds herself  on a platform of a station in the past. These episodes occur throughout the book and Sam is much more than an observer as she sees what is happening through the eyes of the person involved. She is understandably confused and at this point so are we, this is a book that very gradually reveals the truth. After being introduced to Sam, the third person narrative switches to Jess, another teenage girl but one who is actually living in 1914. War has not long broken out and young men are being recruited to fight in a war they are told will be over by Christmas. With our benefit of hindsight of course we know that many of the men eagerly signing up are destined to never return or to come back irrevocably changed.
The chapters throughout the book switch between the two girls, separated by a century but somehow linked. Jess' story is so evocatively told, it's a poignant and bittersweet coming of age story and also a sharp reminder of the social inequalities that were still rife during that time. Her family are desperately poor and cruelly affected by the war. The village they live in is terribly poverty stricken, something we perhaps forget when we look back on that time.
Sam's story doesn't have the same desperate tragedy but is still an immersive look at a modern family who are experiencing their own trauma. Whilst the chapters featuring Jess are perhaps the more obviously heartrending, Sam's life is touchingly and empathetically followed. She may not experience the same dangers as Jess but she is still affected by dramatic and life-changing events that she needs to come to turns with. Both girls are forced to make brave decisions and in many ways we are reminded that no matter the circumstances love, fear, hope and grief affect us all.  Dying is a constant theme throughout too, the horrors of war obviously but also more subtly, the quiet losses, the need to face up to and accept death. Ultimately it's a book about family, the ties that bind us and link us to the past.
I was so moved by this book, the mystery at the heart of it is beautifully and intricately explained. I really appreciated too that the reason for the bond between the two girls is something special, without giving anything away this book celebrates being different and accepting those differences. The characters are subtly and sympathetically brought to life, the switching narrative never less than compelling. I read it in a single setting as I was unable to tear myself away from this intelligent, thoughtful and cleverly plotted book. I knew it would be a book I would enjoy, I didn't realise it would be a novel that would touch me so deeply. I thoroughly recommend it.

We've Come to Take You Home is available to buy here . You can follow Susan Gandar on Twitter as @Susan_Gandar  and find her website here.

About the Author

Susan Gandar's  father, John Box, was a film production designer, working on ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, ‘Dr. Zhivago’, ‘The Great Gatsby’, ‘A Man For All Seasons’ and the musical ‘Oliver’.  Their house was always filled with people, usually eccentric, always talented, invariably stroppy, discussing stories. Her mother put her father’s four Oscars to good use as toilet roll holders, doorstops and hat stands.

A major chunk of her childhood was spent loitering around on film sets. Who needs an ‘English education’ when you have the marble-dusted streets of downtown Moscow, ten miles outside of Madrid, to explore?

But then the years of ‘Who Will Buy My Sweet Red Roses’ came to a rather abrupt end. Reality knocked on the door in the guise of the Metropolitan Line to Shepherds Bush and the BBC. Working in television as a script editor and story consultant, she was part of the creative team responsible for setting up ‘Casualty’. She became known for going after the more ‘difficult’ stories at the same time successfully racking up viewing figures from 7 to 14 million.

She went on to develop various projects for both the BBC and the independent sector. The period she enjoyed most was working with Jack Rosenthal, a wonderful writer, on the series ‘Moving Story’ – ‘That’s a situation, a good situation, but now you need to make it into a story.’

Martin, her husband, was made an offer he couldn’t refuse and they left England to live in Amsterdam. ‘Ik wil een kilo kabeljauw, alstublieft’ will, if all goes well, buy you a piece of cod – she decided to concentrate on her writing rather than her Dutch pronunciation.

Her debut novel, ‘We’ve Come to Take You Home’, set in the present and in 1918, a crossover aimed at the adult and young adult women’s fiction market, was published in the Spring of 2016.