The Woolworths GirlsThe Woolworths Girls by Elaine Everest
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When you pick up a book like The Woolworths Girls you’re looking a comfort read. I think most of us are aware that the ‘good old days’ weren’t quite so good, but what the author brings us is that magical sense of nostalgia for things past, perhaps things lost, a sense of family, of belonging and community spirit. Opening at the beginning of WWII, telling the story of three young girls setting out on an uncertain journey to adulthood, a journey made more daunting by the impending war, the story is based around Woolworths, a landmark in history, the go to shop for bits and bobs which you could rely on Woollies to stock. It can’t fail to resonate with people, young and old, those who might have shopped there, those who, like me, had mothers or grandmothers with barely ‘two pennies to rub together’, who would go to Woollies for everything from cheap lippy to laces. The central girls, Sarah, Freda and Maisie, win hearts immediately. Nervously attending interviews, we are given glimpses of just the right amount of beautifully concise backstory to have us totally invested in them. They’re from very different backgrounds, each with their own troubled secrets, and each with an innocence we want to preserve. We watch them bond, we watch them grow, we follow their trials and tribulations, from the seemingly trivial which are so important to girls of that age, to their adapting to the terrors that war brings. The secondary characters are cleverly drawn, making us want to share their stories too. Sarah’s grandmother, Ruby, whose home is where the heart is, is the linchpin, a stalwart of a woman who’s as determined the girls will have a square meal inside them as she is to protect them. I loved this book from the opening chapter, where ex-sailors from the Seaman’s Mission were singing Christmas carols in the snow. I loved the ending, where Sarah was taking new staff under her wing. I loved everything in between. If you love WWII reads, nostalgia in bucketfuls, a timely reminder of the hardship endured, and a smile along the way, The Woolworths Girls encapsulates it all. Highly recommended.

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