Remembrance is written by Carnegie Medal-winning author Theresa Breslin, who has rather a lot of titles to her name. Its story is centered around the First World War, beginning as it does in the summer of 1915 and spanning the remainder of the conflict. The premise is that in a small Scottish village named Stratharden, the Great War ‘is to alter the course of five young lives for ever’.
A group of teenagers, all of whom live within the village, are brought together at a picnic and become firm friends ‘despite their social differences’. Charlotte Armstrong-Barnes, effectively the protagonist of the novel, has just joined the Red Cross, much to the disdain of her traditional mother, who thinks that organising charity events is far more fitting for a girl of Charlotte’s class and standing. Charlotte’s brother Francis, seven years her senior, and perhaps the most interesting character in Remembrance, believes that patriotism is ‘the one thing that can unite people. It takes priority over religious differences, or class, or money, or social position’. He flatly refuses to join the Army like many young men of his age, preferring instead to focus his efforts upon sketching and helping to manage the family estate.
The Armstrong-Barnes’ invite the three Dundas siblings, children of a local shopkeeper, to a picnic which they decide to host on Bank Holiday Monday – twins Maggie and John Malcolm, and their younger brother Alex. Alex, despite being only fourteen, has grand ideas about joining up when he is of age to, and John Malcolm is also intent upon doing his bit. Breslin’s characters have all been fleshed out well – not to the extent that they are vivid in terms of their appearances, but with regard to their personalities and dreams. She demonstrates the way in which the lives of her characters – and the lives of those around them – are impacted by the war. There are changes in careers, and dreams built for a different and peaceful future shelved indefinitely, not to mention loss, grief and death. The irrevocable change which the war brought with it has been deftly considered. Breslin also takes into account the way in which naivety and innocence can be applied to wartime situations, and how such elements can so easily be lost.
Breslin has taken a lot of wartime-related themes into account in her novel, and addresses such elements as patriotism, franchise, equality and the futility of war. Pacifism, and what it means within the wider community, has also been addressed. The third person perspective which she has adopted works well with the unfolding story. Interesting and sometimes conflicting viewpoints have often been taken into account, and this forms perhaps the strongest element of the novel. Remembrance is a well plotted and engaging novel, which is about courage and friendship above all else, and which is certainly a worthy addition to First World War literature.