Book Review, Children's Fiction, Middle Grade Fiction

BOOK REVIEW: A Pattern of Secrets by Lindsay Littleson

– Short review –

A Pattern of Secrets is a wonderfully atmospheric Victorian adventure that tells the story of two children from very different worlds – one of a twelve year old boy living in poverty, the other of a girl with apparently everything she could want. Their paths cross when Jim’s father loses his livelihood when the factory owned by Jessie’s father closes and an unfortunate misunderstanding costs Jim’s family their savings and their home. Jim and Jessie are not so very different though, and Lindsay Littleson weaves together their stories in a beautiful dual narrative that shows how two children from very different backgrounds could have more in common than they could possibly have imagined.

– Long review –

‘Ma’s voice, ragged with panic, tore through my dream. I woke with start, heart racing. Then lay, still as death, and listened.

“We’ve no choice.” Dad’s words seem slurred, and I guessed he’d been drinking.

“D’ye think for one moment this is what I want?”

“But we can’t, Frank. You can’t mean it! You’re a skilled weaver. The poorhouse isn’t for the likes of us!”’

Right from the very first chapter of A Pattern of Secrets, the stakes are high for Jim Muir’s family. Set in Paisley in the 1870s when the golden age of weaving was coming to an end, Jim’s father, a proud craftsman, is out of work and at the end of his tether. Finding comfort at the bottom of a bottle, he is sliding into despair and carrying his young family down with him. With no money for rent and no weaving work to be found, Jim, his parents, and his two younger siblings are forced make the make a desperate choice – go to the poorhouse, or starve.

Out of options, they choose the poorhouse, and are separated – Jim and his father to the men’s block, and his mother, younger brother and baby sister to the women’s. His spirit broken, Jim’s father doesn’t last long there, and on his deathbed tells Jim the secret of a shawl now in the possession of the Rowat family, the owners of the factory that closed and cost the Muir family their livelihood. Desperate to save his little brother from the harsh life in the men’s block when he turns eight in just a week, Jim escapes and hatches a desperate plan to steal back what was taken from them.

Spying on the Rowat family from the branches of a tree and trying to find a way to sneak inside their beautiful home to reclaim what was lost, Jim sees the ‘perfect’ life of Jessie and can’t help envying her comfort and happy family.

Jessie’s life isn’t nearly as perfect as it looks from the outside though. Her mother has passed away, and Jessie misses her terribly, feeling lost and lonely. Her father has taken his children to live with their confused old grandmother and dragon of an aunt, who, as her father whimsically puts it, doesn’t loathe children:

“She adores children, particularly on toast, or baked in a pie.”

When Jessie discovers Jim spying on her family she fears he’s up to no good and that her family is in danger. But soon she learns that Jim and his family are the ones who are going to lose everything, and she vows to help as best she can. But will they be in time to discover the secret of the shawl Jim’s father wove, and to save his family from life in the poorhouse?

This is a beautifully told story that weaves together the two children’s narratives seamlessly. Wonderfully atmospheric, with beautiful descriptions of Victorian Paisley brought to life from the pages of history, its fictional account of the early life of Jessie Rowat Newbury – a real person and an important player in the Glasgow art world – is full of adventure, friendship, and hope for a better future.

A Pattern Of Secrets is published by Cranachan Publishing and is available to purchase here.

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Lindsay Littleson

Lindsay Littleson

Lindsay Littleson has four grown-up (ish) children and lives in the village of Uplawmoor near Glasgow. Her younger son is studying drama and Lindsay is unfailingly supportive, not wanting to repeat her faux pas of nearly thirty years ago when she tried to talk a young Ewan McGregor out of becoming an actor.  She’s a full-time primary teacher and loves her job. Before becoming a teacher she spent eight years as possibly the worst PAYE auditor ever to be employed by the Inland Revenue.

In 2014 she began writing for children and won the Kelpies Prize for her first children’s novel The Mixed Up Summer of Lily McLean. The sequel, The Awkward Autumn of Lily McLean, was published by Floris Books in March this year.

As a child, Lindsay developed a keen interest in the past, thanks to the Ladybird Adventures from History series. If only she’d held on to all those early editions…

In 2015 her WW1 novel Shell Hole was shortlisted for the Dundee Great War Children’s Book Prize and she enjoyed engaging in research so much that she was inspired to write another historical novel, A Pattern of Secrets, this time focusing on her local area.

You can find out more about Lindsay and her books here.

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