Nora is twelve years old when, because of World War II, she becomes one of the thousands of English children put on trains out of London into the safer English countryside. Her mother puts her on the evacuation train for her safety, but Nora feels it as an emotionally devastating rejection. When she reaches rural Kent and is taken in by the Rivers family, she bonds immediately with their daughter, Grace, is enchanted by Mrs. Rivers, and grateful for the new world Rev. Rivers opens up to her with education.
Nora and Grace grow as close as sisters, but as the girls reach adolescence, she discovers that even that is not quite close enough. She wants more, something that at that time and place she can't even ask for. And gradually she learns that this idyllic family is not quite so idyllic as it looked at first. There is a grief and a barrier between Rev. and Mrs. Rivers, and a fatal weakness in the Reverend.
The story alternates between Nora as a young girl and young woman during the war years, and Nora as an old woman, dying of cancer and taking in a young woman, Rose, a single mother disowned by her own family. Nora isn't always the most lovable character; she's hard on herself and others, unable to forgive herself for her mistakes. I found this nevertheless an absolutely engaging character study, as the young Nora struggles with feelings she can never talk about, and the old Nora struggles to do the right thing for herself and those around her, after a lifetime of mistakes.
I borrowed this book from the library.