cover image Crooked Heart

Crooked Heart

Lissa Evans. Harper, $24.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-06-236483-8

British author Evans makes her American debut in this Baileys Women’s Prize–longlisted dark comedy with heart, set in London during World War II. After the death of his beloved godmother Mattie, a former suffragette whose keen intellect had begun to buckle under dementia just as the Blitz commenced, 10-year-old Noel Bostock is evacuated to a suburb of London. He is placed with Vera Sedge, a middle-aged widow who has designs on using Noel, who limps, to elicit sympathy for her small-time con game, exploiting ordinary people’s generosity during wartime for her own ends. Vera’s grown son, Donald, is running his own racket, helping enlisted men fail their medical exams. Noel’s precociousness, combined with the distrust of authority instilled in him by Mattie, makes him a difficult child for many adults to like, and though Vera has enough of her own troubles, somehow the two of them—awkwardly but endearingly—find a connection. Evans, who has published several children’s books, is especially adept at capturing Noel’s appealing blend of sophisticated bravado and naive fragility—all without lapsing into sentimentality. Most valuable, though, is the tragicomic portrayal of the petty betrayals and profound losses that characterized ordinary people’s everyday wartime experiences. (July)