“The Secret Book of Flora Lea” is the latest offering by Patti Callahan Henry, the author of 16 novels and part-time resident of Palmetto Bluff.
Set in a small hamlet near Oxford, England, the story begins with 14-year-old Hazel and 6-year-old Flora Lea bidding a tearful good-bye to their father, who must join the fight against Nazi Germany. Soon after, the government issues an evacuation notice, “Operation Pied Piper,” ordering children to be evacuated from London, away from the air raids of war. Sadly, the girls must leave their mother and go to a new “home” in the countryside.
They will live with Bridie, a kind woman with a young son, Harry, about Hazel’s age. Their house is cozy and surrounded by woodlands, the River Thames nearby.
Hazel, remembering parts of the Pied Piper story, wants to read it to her sister to comfort her, but upon re-reading its tragic end, decides she must make up her own stories.
Spinning tales from her vivid imagination, Hazel and Flora Lea explore the woods and name their secret place “Whisperwood.” Hiding in small spaces in trees, they become whoever they want to be, creating adventures and escaping the worries of war and missing their mum. They tell no one about “Whisperwood.”
One day, while the three children are out exploring the woods, Flora Lea falls asleep and is left alone for a few minutes. When Harry and Hazel return, Flora Lea is gone. After intense searching and investigation that goes on for many weeks, it seems the little girl has vanished.
Heartbroken, Hazel carries with her immense guilt and never stops thinking about her little sister.
Twenty years later, working at “Hogan’s Rare Book Shoppe” in Bloomsbury, Hazel opens a package from America containing a book entitled “Whisperwood and the River of Stars.”
She cannot believe her eyes. How could this be? Seemingly impossible, the discovery sets in motion a search for the author of this book, hoping that maybe, just maybe, her little sister is still alive.
“The Secret Book of Flora Lea” is a tenderhearted story of families, the bond of sisters, tragic loss and a decades-long mystery. It also brings to life the horrendous uncertainties and separations of war.
This book will be available May 2 at all major booksellers and can be pre-ordered at patticallahanhenry.com/the-secret-book-of-flora-lea.
Glenda Harris is a freelance writer and editor, nature lover and aspiring novelist.