The Goose Road
Age 12 and up
I love historical fiction books set during World War I or II, so I was delighted to be asked to review Rowena House’s debut novel The Goose Road. I was even more excited to be asked to be a part of the blog tour for this enchanting read.
The Goose Road is a beautifully written story about a determined girl who goes on a remarkable journey. Angélique Lacroix and her mother are left to fend for themselves on their farm as her father is killed at war and Pascal her brother is fighting on the Somme. The requisition are never far away and after claiming their animals Angélique is terrified they will take her brothers treasured goose eggs. Angélique craftily hides an egg and looks after it by getting a hen to sit on it until it hatches. As Angélique is the first thing her gosling sees it means she becomes a mother to it so she can lead it anywhere. After contacting her Uncle Gustav to ask for help when they find themselves in financial difficulty and at risk of losing the farm, he comes to the rescue and helps his niece (who he endearingly calls ‘ma petit’) by travelling across France to sell the birds to General Foch.
I found myself really rooting for Angélique as she embarks on her fascinating journey across France with a gaggle of entertaining Toulouse geese in tow. Angélique is absolutely dedicated to saving her home and making her brother proud. On her journey we see Angélique and her gosling Amandine get into all sorts of mishaps and risky situations. Nearly losing her geese on many occasions does not stop Angélique and we really see a fierce, courageous, feisty character emerge. Separated from her Uncle on a train Angélique is helped by Émile (amongst other colourful characters) a scared and lonely man who lets her rest and travel on his barge as he travels up the Seine. She needs to meet her Uncle under the clock at the Gare d’Orleans. Eventually she is reunited with her Uncle but will she sell the geese and save her home and does Pascal return safely from the war? I won’t spoil the end but I will tell you that this is a fantastic debut which will have you turning the pages as you cheer Angélique and her precious gosling on to a happy end. It will also have you reaching for the tissues.
I was lucky enough to ask Rowena House a few questions which I would love to share with you now. I also have two copies of The Goose Road to give away. Watch my Twitter/Facebook to see how you can enter the competition.
What inspired you to read as a child?
As a young child, I remember being drawn to strangeness in stories and fairy tales from distant places. When Dad read us Swallows and Amazons, I liked Missee Lee, set in the Far East, more than their English adventures. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader thrilled me, too, and the Slavic folklore of Baba Yaga. I was slow to start reading, but once I’d got the hang of it I devoured books during school holidays. The Crusades fascinated me when I was about 10 or 11 years old, and early medieval courts, the She-Wolves of France as their queens were called, and Eleanor of Aquitaine, all of which led me to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings in my early teens.
How would you inspire boys to read more?
I feel like the worst person ever to answer that question because my son NEVER reads for pleasure! That said, I suspect I know at least one of the reasons why: the pedestrian, old-fashioned, set texts he was forced to slog through at primary school before he was allowed to choose his own books. Why the powers-that-be limit children’s reading this way is beyond me. Sure, some parents will object to anything novel (no pun intended) as will some governors, but I’m dismayed when teachers also restrict their pupils’ reading. I think a great first step to encouraging boys to read more would be to stock libraries in both primary and secondary schools with a wide range of books, including lots of Barrington Stoke titles for reluctant readers, so that every child has access to the wealth of brilliant authors writing for young people today. Sadly, I suspect this is very unlikely to happen in the current educational climate, and with libraries and professional librarians everywhere under attack from public sector spending cuts.
What is your favourite book to read to children?
When my son was little, we loved Debi Gliori books at bedtime. Puzzle books were wonderful too, and picture books about the natural world. We shared and discussed them all the time. As a primary school governor, I used to read anything the child wanted. I think their taste in books is more important than mine.
Which book do you wish you had written?
I’m not sure how to answer that. I wouldn’t want to have written any of my favourite novels because then I wouldn’t have discovered them, and been transported by them. So I’m going to cheat and say I wish I’d been commissioned to write The Definitive Guide to African Wild Cats, then I could live in a tent far out in the bush, researching animal behaviour and listening to the fantastic sounds of the African night beside a campfire.
Did you do a lot of research for The Goose Road? If so, what stuck in your mind most?
For the book, I did months and months of research in the UK, France and online, spread over three years, but I’ve continued to read and think about WW1 ever since. I believe all historical periods are important to understand, as far as one can, before embarking on an imaginary journey through them. Readers – especially young people – will (hopefully) absorb our stories at a visceral and emotional level, so the “truths” we present to them in fiction might well become more significant and long-lasting than the “facts” they pick up in history classes.
I also wanted to understand this terrible time better myself. The more I researched it, the more it struck me how little I knew. So many images one has from the First World War are about the hell-on-earth that was the Western Front, but the Eastern battles were dreadful, too. The Serbians suffered terribly, as did the Russians. World War One bought down Empires, and globalised international relations, and began the great 20th century confrontation between Communist Russia and the capitalist USA which still reverberates today. I’d love to continue to research those years, and write about them again.
Is there a scene in The Goose Road you enjoyed writing more than others?
The most powerful scenes for me are also the saddest, but saying I enjoyed writing them best seems a bit weird. Yes, there is huge satisfaction to be had in deciding – invariably after a long struggle – that you have, finally, said what you meant to say. But in terms of actual writing fun, it would have to be a scene with Napoleon the gander, especially the one with him and Rene in the orchard. I love Napoleon. He’s so gutsy.
Thanks so much to @HouseRowena @WalkerBooksYA and @hardacre_jo for my beautiful copy of The Goose Road and for taking the time to answer my questions.