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by Anna Lawrence Pietroni
Reviewed by Charlotte Simpson

Thirteen year old Ruby is growing up in Cradle Cross in the Black Country during the 1930s. It was an industrial but also rural part of England, dependent on the canal system for its trade. Forbidden by her Nan to cross any of the waterways that surround her village after her near drowning several years ago, Ruby dreams of leaving for the sea and is saving money to buy her own boat.

Then the mysterious Isa Fly arrives in the village and seems to offer the opportunity to escape that Ruby has been waiting for.

Isa, with her bright white hair and one blind eye, captivates Ruby. Isa says she has come to the village to search for a sister she never knew about, but once there she seems to have little interest in finding this woman. Soon after her arrival life in Cradle Cross starts to go awry - the local button factory workers are sacked, the items that the villagers hold most dear go missing. The local women grow increasingly suspicious of Isa's intrusion into their lives, culminating in an age-old response to female strangers. She must be a witch.

Cradle Cross is a very female community drawn together through grief. While the mystery of Isa Fly and Ruby's growing understanding of the adult world drives the story, the real focus is how the women of Cradle Cross cope with drowned husbands, dead mothers and children, a mostly absent father, and the losses of the First World War when husbands, fathers, sons and uncles went away and never came back.

I have to admit that my frame of mind when starting Ruby's Spoon was less than positive. The cover looks like many other books written to appeal to a female audience. It seems deliberately cute and girlie. The blurb mentions witches and mermaids - I don't get on with mystical, fairy-tale-like stories. It also promises a 'bold and bewitching debut', a big claim that I thought would be hard to live up to.

Ruby's Spoon has reminded me that I should never judge a book by its cover! It is bewitching. I was quickly drawn into the story and continued to be intrigued by Isa Fly, trying to second guess her motivations for going to Cradle Cross. This is an enjoyable, interesting debut novel with some thought-provoking moments. Last year our last two soldiers of the Great War died. Ruby's Spoon is a timely reminder of how deeply this conflict scarred British society for many years.

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