On holiday in Scotland, last summer I enjoyed finding out about the Scottish clearances, which sparked my curiosity in this period of history. So I jumped at the chance to review a copy of Fir for Luck. The historical context and the face on the front cover, a girl with a fire in her eye, looked like a winning combination, and it is!
Fir for Luck tells, through the eyes of a 12 year old, called Janet, a Scottish hamlet’s struggle to survive at time of upheaval in Scottish history. You find yourself rooting for Janet and wanting her to save her village. There are surprises and last minute twists. It is a cracking read, at times it is ‘brutal’, but there is gentleness too. I left with a real sense having been on a journey through both the landscape and a period of history.
I love that you get a sense of the wild landscape from: remote sparse heathlands to windswept coastal shores. You also get a sense of a community closely connected to the landscape. This is cleverly portrayed through descriptions, which refer to the shape of the land, passing light and the seasons. For example:
“The surf pounds the rocks down at the Cove, and the limited light from the tiny windows takes on a golden tint.” p4
“Ceannabeinne is bathed in a lovely autumn glow that simply doesn’t allow misery” p67
Read my guest post to find out more about the central importance of the landscape to the story and Barbara Henderson’s love of the Highlands.
In chapter five a gentleman of the law arrives at Janet’s hamlet with the intention of serving a ‘Writ’. If it is served Janet, her family and her community will be forced from their homes. Here the story really gets going. Janet (as we are discovering) is a girl who is not afraid to speak out or stand up for what she believes in. What can she do to protect her village? Added depth is given through flashbacks to 1814, when Janet’s grandma was brutally forced off the land. This helps the reader to understand what Janet and others might be feeling when they face a threat to their homes, 30 years later. However, it does make it a little more difficult to read. The flashbacks could be used creatively in a classroom context and would be great to read aloud.
The first four chapters beautifully introduce the setting, but it isn’t until chapter 5 that things start to fall into place, and the tension builds. This may make it harder for some younger or less confident children to get into the story. However, there are several solutions to this possible problem. The first is as a parent or educator is to read the story to yourself first. You will then get a sense of the history and your enthusiasm for the story will show. Secondly, there is much potential to explore this story in a classroom, and for role play. The publishers Cranachan have produced a free education pack which will be available to download free on their website. There is a handy Glossary (p194) of the traditional Scottish words used in the story.
The name title: Fir for Luck, features in the story. It was a traditional Scottish practice to put a fir in the hearth chain above the fire for good luck. It is a beautiful and touching addition, which is also used very effectively towards the end. For any child or adult curious about the Scottish clearances and/or love of the Scottish highlands this would make a great read.
Fir for Luck is available to buy from the 21st September.