Sunday, September 27, 2015

Book Review: Under Black Banner by Geoffrey Trease (1951)

In Geoffrey Trease's 1951 follow-up to No Boats on Bannermere, Bill, Sue, Tim, and Penny are out exploring one evening when they come upon a farm which was used for military training during World War II, but has since been abandoned. When they are stranded overnight in one of the buildings, they realize they are not the only ones who have recently slept there. In fact, it turns out that one of the boys' own classmates used to live on the farm and sneaks back now and then for a visit. Troubled by the injustice of a family losing its home to the military, the foursome launch a campaign to return the property to its original owners. What they don't anticipate, however, is that their nemesis Sir Alfred Askew will have designs on the farm himself as well.

Unlike the first book of the series, this second story is much more dated to the time period, and much less focused on a singular plot line. In addition to the kids' crusade to restore the farm land to the family who lived there before the war, there are also storylines involving an important sporting event at the boys' school, military training exercises (again, for the boys), and a new love interest for Penny who annoys the rest of the group. There are entire chapters devoted to detailed descriptions of military maneuvers and scenes from sports matches, which quickly become tedious, and not much action to the main plot, as the characters mainly write letters and give speeches. The writing style remains fresh and enjoyable, but the content is less relatable - at least to a contemporary audience - than everything that happens in No Boats on Bannermere.

Like The Fragile Flag by Jane Langton, this book does inspire a sense of civic pride and responsibility in young readers and proves that youth is not necessarily an obstacle when it comes to the democratic process and making important changes to society. Still, it does not have the same flair for adventure as the first book, and it is largely forgettable by comparison.

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