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A Foreign Field

by Gillian Chan

During the Second World War, the Royal Air Force ran a flight training school in the town of Hagersville, Ontario. The school is one of the two main backdrops for Gillian Chan’s new novel; the other is the home of 14-year-old Ellen, whose younger brother is marched home by a young RAF pilot after being caught trespassing on the training fields. The pilot, 16-year-old Stephen, makes friends with Ellen and her family, and his visits to their home relieve some of the pressure of his training and his recurring nightmares. Ellen struggles with burdens of her own, juggling home and school responsibilities and worrying about her older brother, who has gone missing in action. The narrative switches between Ellen’s and Stephen’s perspectives, with the latter’s thoughts conveyed through his letters. Both characters grapple with loss but find support in their deepening friendship.
A Foreign Field is a pleasant read with its tight structure, good momentum, and convincing dialogue. The question is whether this addition to an already substantial body of Second World War fiction will resonate with young readers looking for insight into their own world. Apart from the occasional curse and the mention of a peripheral character’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy, the world of this novel seems unrecognizably polite.