Mary Hooper,
Petals in the Ashes
(Bloomsbury, 2004)

In Petals in the Ashes, Hannah and her sister Sarah have just fled the Great Plague of London with assumed names and health certificates. Their mission is to carry the orphaned baby, Grace, to safety with her country relatives.

After a harrowing journey, Hannah arrives at the stately Lady Jane Cartmel's manor to deliver their precious burden. Yet, to their shock, the girls find themselves exiled to a pesthouse, where ill people wait to die. How will they return to London to reopen their sweetshop when thousands are dying from the vicious plague? Will they even be able to write to their family? And how can Hannah begin to seek her sweetheart, Tom, lost in the vast reaches of the stricken city?

This novel, told from the first-person point-of-view, gives amazing insight into the Great Plague and Great Fire of London in the 1660s. From the taste of comfits and sugared violets to the horrors of the abandoned shops, all are brought into vivid relief within this tale.

Hannah experiences the Great Fire first hand, lost in the ash and soot as she beholds St. Peter's burning in a torrent of melting lead. At the same time, Hannah and her sister visit fairs and struggle over everyday issues, from candymaking to dress sewing. The book's end offers a number of herbal recipes, adding to the authentic feel.

The characters are warm and alive, making readers care about their struggle to find sweethearts in the midst of devastation and calamity. This is a heartwarming novel for young readers.

by Valerie Frankel
17 June 2006

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