“I’d never had this crushing weight that pounced on me the minute I opened my eyes every morning, settled on my shoulders and wouldn’t shift.”
— Sheena Wilkinson, Hope against Hope
If you are as passionate about historical novels as I am, I can’t encourage you enough to pick up Hope against Hope, one of Sheena Wilkinson’s books following strong women trying to find themselves and fighting for their rights in the north of Ireland over the course of the 20th century. Don’t worry if a trio of books sounds daunting: Star by Star, Name upon Name and Hope against Hope are only very loosely linked to one another. It just means you will get to enjoy more of the author’s writing if you like one of her novels!
Hope against Hope‘s protagonist, Polly, lives next to the Northern Irish border… in 1921, when Ireland was partitioned. Conflicts break out, tempers flare, some people haven’t recovered from the Great War and, on top of this, Polly worries for her cousin Catherine who has been sent to Belfast and doesn’t seem to get used to it.
After a particularly violent dispute with her brother, the teenage girl decides to move to Belfast. There, she joins her cousin at Helen’s Hope, a hostel for girls that turns out to be much more than just lodgings.
Living together as a community is never easy. It is even more complicated when Protestant and Catholic girls have to share rooms in Ireland in tense times – when going to Mass in certain areas of Belfast might have been risky. However, following the lodgers’ adventures leaves no doubt: there is much more than religion behind the Irish conflict, while friendship, communication and openness to others can strengthen a community. Sounds cheesy?
It’s not! The author never chooses the easiest solution. Her characters, all nuanced, modern and well fleshed, have to make difficult decisions whilst navigating their personal convictions and feelings in order to move forward.
I particularly appreciated how Sheena Wilkison touches on topics such as homosexuality, feminism and political commitment in a very authentic way. Each plot development sounds natural whilst providing a great adventure that is both pleasant to read and very instructive.
I still find myself thinking about this group of young, brave girls several weeks after I’ve finished the book… Hope against Hope might not be the best historical novel out there, the plot might sometimes be a bit far-fetched, but it definitely is a great way to introduce young readers to this genre – and a delightful moment for adults looking for an engrossing story they can fly through.
A great story for young readers on very important topics – that might, however, leave adults wanting more depth and credibility.
About the book
Author: Sheena Wilkinson
Publisher: Little Island Books
Publication year: 2020