Sunday, 27 June 2010

Gemma and Sisters (Noel Streatfeild)

--The blurb--
"Gemma, once a child film-star in Hollywood, is living with her cousins in a small provincial town. Having thought that she would find it a terrible backwater, she now finds that her cousins are much more talented than she is! There's tremendous excitement in the Robinson household. Gemma and her cousins have put together an act using all their talents, and they're an instant hit! Everyone wants to see Gemma & Sisters. Robin, the younger brother, has swirled some new tunes, and his friend Nigs is on the drums. Ann sings solo and Lydia, the show-off of the family, is thrilled to be able to dance in front of an audience again. Gemma is a sensation on the banjo, but she has an awful feeling of foreboding. Then one day disaster strikes. Lydia, in a stupid moment of revenge, has an accident and badly injures her hip. It looks like the end for Gemma & Sisters; but much more important: will Lydia ever dance or even walk again?"

--The review--
Acclaimed effectively as a writer of modern-day fairytales, Noel Streatfeild's appeal is not just restricted to wartime Britain. Ballet Shoes, for instance, remains a children's classic, and it was recently made into a movie for television starring Emma Watson. Perhaps lesser-known, though, is the Gemma series, published in the late 60s just as the author's career was beginning to wind down. She was already over 70 by this time, and while like other prolific children's authors such as Enid Blyton she tended to recycle character types and plot bases, this made her books no less enjoyable. The Gemma series is no exception, and the story is continued smoothly in Gemma and Sisters, the second instalment in the series of four (the other three being Gemma, Gemma Alone, and Goodbye Gemma).

Just as in her other books, the common themes of performance and of unexpected modern-day fairy godmothers saving the family's skin just at the right moment are prominent. The characters are vivid, pace is kept tight, and suspense is built effectively. Gemma and Sisters proves supremely comforting and readable for all ages and is something that families can enjoy together, allowing hope to be instilled that all will come right in the end.

The book is dated and thus may not appeal so much to some young people, although it may be of sociological interest to those who work in this field of study. A very definite picture is built of the time in which it was written, and while the situations can at times seem contrived (Streatfeild characteristically ties things up perhaps a little too neatly), the characters never do, seeming genuine and largely likeable. Readers want to know what will happen to Gemma and all of the others next, not just in the context of the series but also in the twists and turns of the book itself. Streatfeild delivers humour, tragedy, feistiness, seriousness, mischief and happiness in equal measure, packing a lot of variety into what is in reality just a few short pages.

Streatfeild's work may prove a little too twee and sentimental for some, and ultimately the ending is happy, as it usually is for the author's heroes and heroines. However, it's perhaps worth throwing in the idea that sometimes the "best" books are not always the most well-written or perfect: just look at Twilight and Harry Potter.

Selected works by Noel Streatfeild (for children)
Ballet Shoes (1936)
Curtain Up (1944)
White Boots (1951)
Apple Bough (1962)

Selected works by Noel Streatfeild (for adults)
Saplings (1945)
Grass In Piccadilly (1947)
Mothering Sunday (1950)
Judith (1956)
The Silent Speaker (1961)

No comments: