Jenny Ashcroft’s Under the Golden Sun swept me off of my feet and back to 1940s England and Australia. I was completely absorbed by the story, and simply couldn’t put it down.
Traumatized by the war and her own personal tragedies, Rose isn’t looking for any more life-changing experiences. Yet when she sees the ad searching for a caregiver to accompany a four year old boy on a voyage to Australia, she can’t help but feel a tug in her heart that leads her to just inquire about the opportunity.
There are plenty of reasons for Rose to turn down the job. Her fighter pilot brother, her politician uncle, a fiancé, the life she had planned for herself. But after meeting little Walter, she can’t help but do all she can to help him get to his new home. But will she be able to leave Walter once he’s settled? Or will Walter, and his estranged family, need her more than ever?
While there are loads of historical fiction novels set during WWII, this one really stands apart for me. It highlights a less frequently portrayed region, as well as featuring characters wounded early in the war. The portrayal of wounded veterans is inclusive and important. Ashcroft expertly demonstrates the trauma of recovering from one world war while in the midst of another. The time and place settings raise the already high stakes for these characters, and make this book impossible to put down.
The characters are phenomenally well developed. As someone who often interacts with young children, I’m always thrilled to find realistic depictions of kids, from the funny things they say to their unfiltered personalities to their struggles. Rose’s patience and gentleness with fragile Walter is part of what makes her such a lovable character, though her tenacity in recovering from her own tragedy while helping Walter through his is another reason to love her. Although Rose is often viewed by others as delicate, she possesses great grit and determination. That Walter is her motivation for standing up for him, and herself, is all the more endearing.
Like many historical fiction novels, heavy themes of grief, loss, and recovery are present. The lingering effects of grief are well described, and vary depending on character and personality accurately. The characters and their losses are so intricately described and relatable that I found myself tearful on more than one occasion.
Though the cast of characters is wide, each character is so fully developed that they are easily distinguishable. From the staff of each residence to the main players, every character is memorable in their own way. The importance of female friendship is such a strong theme, and the unification of two lonely souls finding friendship in such an isolated time and place feels especially timely during these pandemic years.
Rose’s relationships and experience traveling from Britain to Australia in 1940 are the primary focus of the story. I love the balance of relationships, with her relationships with Walter and new friends Esme and Kate just as well-developed as the romantic plot. The slow-burn romantic story woven into the narrative adds even more to love about this book.
All of the locations are wonderfully depicted. The setting descriptions are realistic and make the reader feel as though they are there, sitting in the waving grass beneath the shining sun, watching Rose and Walter head off on a walk. Ashcroft strikes the perfect balance of action and description, making the reading experience immersive.
Though the main topics of this novel are heavy with war, loss, and fear as a constant undercurrent, there is such humor, love, and hope spread throughout that make it utterly irresistible. It is through Rose’s relationships that we see her truly blossom and come into her own, and what a treat it is to witness. The overall message of hope and love leave the reader feeling sated despite the heavier moments.
Thank you to author Jenny Ashcroft, St. Martin’s Press, and NetGalley for an advanced copy such that I could share my honest review.
Under the Golden Sun will be available 15 March 2022 from St. Martin’s Press.
You can preorder it here from Bookshop.org and here from Amazon. Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org and Amazon. I will earn a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you click through and make a purchase.