Wednesday, November 18, 2015

CROOKED HEART by Lissa Evans

They say that desperate times call for desperate measures, and that adage certainly applies to Vee and her new ward, Noel, a 10-year-old evacuee from the London blitz during WWII.  Noel is an orphan who has shuttled from his godmother Mattie’s home after her death to the home of a couple who are distantly related to Noel and are relieved when they have to pack him off to St. Albans during the bombing.  Vee takes him in, not out of the goodness of her heart, but because the government will pay her a small stipend.  In her defense, Vee’s life has not been exactly a picnic, either.  She has a grown overweight son Donald who lives with her and uses his heart murmur as an excuse not to earn a living.  His cardiac issue, however, keeps him out of the military, and he soon finds that he can use his defect for illegal personal gain.  Ingrate that he is, he does not share the fact of his scam or his profits with Vee.  Vee, too, figures out that she can make a quick buck going door-to-door asking for charitable donations that she will pocket for herself.  Noel becomes her willing accomplice, finally having something to look forward to, making smart choices about which neighborhood to canvass and which charity to impersonate.  In some ways, this story is sort of a twist on Oliver Twist, but what I loved about it is the burgeoning relationship between Vee and Noel, two skeptical misfits, who become partners in petty crime.  They both have a moral compass of sorts, especially Noel, who becomes outraged when a senile woman’s jewelry is stolen, but he fails to see any hypocrisy in the fact that he and Vee have been milking that same woman for gigantic contributions to their fake causes.  Vee and Noel may have “crooked hearts,” but they’re both lovable and funny, not to mention good for each other, during an extremely difficult time.  This novel never wallows in tragedy or sentimentality, but I found it touching in just the right way.

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