Doreen, Paperback
4.5 out of 5 (2 ratings)




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Review by
Doreen by Barbara Noble is a poignant piece, written in clear simple prose, about belonging, the responsibilities of love, and growing up. Written shortly after the end of the Second World War in the 1940s, the book tells the story of Doreen, a London child of 9, who is sent to live with a family in the country during the bomb raids in London. Doreen is taken from the cold, working world of her mother where she was sure of her role in life to a privileged country house where she has her own room, learns to laugh, and is invited to sit at the table with those out of her class. But since the war will not last forever—and Doreen will return home to her original world and social class—the adults begin to disagree about what is the proper way to treat her: Is her experience spoiling her for her future or is it better to experience this freedom for once even if it most likely won’t last? Will loving other adults lessen her love for her mother? By taking steps to prevent losing Doreen to the bombs, is her mother, Mrs. Rawlings, losing Doreen to the childless Osbornes?Everyone wants to do what’s right by Doreen. As Mrs. Osborne remarks at one point--"I only want to make her happy, what’s wrong with that?" The painful realization the adults come to face is that harm can come through the best of intentions. And while they begin to understand that lesson, Doreen takes her first step out of the protection of childhood when she realizes that "growing up was finding out that grown-ups suffered."
Review by

Doreen is set during WWII and focuses on an issue that many parents living in cities at the time faced. Mrs. Rawlings is a cleaner in a London office who worries about what to do with her nine-year-old daughter during the Blitz. Through Helen Osbourne, a secretary at the office, Mrs. Rawlings finds a place for Doreen at home of Helen’s brother Geoffrey, a solicitor, and his wife, Francie. The Osbournes are a kind, loving couple, and Mrs. Osbourne begins to see a little bit of herself in Doreen. The relationship between Doreen and the Osbournes grows—maybe too much so, from the point of view of the eminently sensible Helen Osbourne.Barbara Noble writes with an insightful eye. She demonstrates without explicitly saying so the dilemma that many parents of the time faced: should London parents keep their children with them, and possibly put them at greater risk; or send them out to the countryside to safety, where they might be living with strangers? Added on top of this is the all-too-timely reappearance of Doreen’s father, who has his own ideas about what should be done with the child.The novel is told from the viewpoint of the girl; but though the reader isn’t explicitly told the details, we can still read between the lines infer the truth (at the beginning of the novel, for example, Doreen’s father is euphemistically referred to as “dead”). The book is unintentionally a suspense novel, too; there’s the scene in London in the Underground and at the Rawlings’ home in Dakers Place which is particularly gripping.Doreen was extremely lucky about the couple she stayed with; many children who were in a similar predicament were not so lucky. Written just after the war years, this novel must have been a timely and striking commentary about the plight of the thousands of children who had to live away from home during the war.