Crooked Heart (Evans)

Crooked Heart 
Lissa Evans, 2014 (U.S.,2015)
288 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780062364838

Paper Moon meets the Blitz in this original black comedy, set in World War II England, chronicling an unlikely alliance between a small time con artist and a young orphan evacuee.

When Noel Bostock—aged ten, no family—is evacuated from London to escape the Nazi bombardment, he lands in a suburb northwest of the city with Vera Sedge—a thirty-six-year old widow drowning in debts and dependents. Always desperate for money, she’s unscrupulous about how she gets it.

Noel’s mourning his godmother Mattie, a former suffragette. Wise beyond his years, raised with a disdain for authority and an eclectic attitude toward education, he has little in common with other children and even less with the impulsive Vee, who hurtles from one self-made crisis to the next.

The war’s provided unprecedented opportunities for making money, but what Vee needs—and what she’s never had—is a cool head and the ability to make a plan.

On her own, she’s a disaster. With Noel, she’s a team.

Together, they cook up a scheme. Crisscrossing the bombed suburbs of London, Vee starts to make a profit and Noel begins to regain his interest in life. But there are plenty of other people making money out of the war—and some of them are dangerous. Noel may have been moved to safety, but he isn’t actually safe at all. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—the West Midlands, England, UK
Education—M.D., New Castle Uiniversity
Awards—Baileys Women's Prize (formerly, Orange Prize)
Currently—lives in London, Englandb

Lissa Evans (Felicity Kenvyn) is a British television director, producer and author.

After qualifying as a doctor in 1983, Lissa worked in medicine in Newcastle for four years before a brief period in stand-up comedy. She started with an ensemble review called "Wire Less Wireless" which played in some of the pubs in Newcastle.

Lissa joined BBC Radio where she was a producer of comedy programmes before migrating to television. She has produced and/or directed such shows as Father Ted (for which she won a BAFTA for best comedy), Room 101, The Kumars at No. 42, TV Heaven, Telly Hell, Crossing the Floor (for which she won an Emmy for best drama) and Have I Got News For You.

In addition to her television work, Lissa has written four novels for adults: Spencer's List (2002), Odd One Out (2004), Their Finest Hour and a Half (2009) (long-listed for the Orange Prize for Fiction) and Crooked Heart (2014, 2015 in the US).

She also wrote two novels for children. The first, Small Change For Stuart, came out in 2011 and was shortlisted for the 2011 Costa Award for Children's fiction, the 2012 Carnegie Medal, and the 2012 Branford Boase Award. (It was published in the US as "Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms").

Her second child's novel, is the Stuart sequel, Big Change for Stuart ("Horten's Incredible Illusions" in the US). It was published in 2012. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 8/2/2015.)

Book Reviews
In Crooked Heart, Lissa Evans’s absorbing and atmospheric comic novel, another quietly heroic orphan joins the canon….This is a wonderfully old-fashioned Dickensian novel, with satisfying plot twists….Both darkly funny and deeply touching….It’s a crooked journey, straight to the heart.
New York Times Book Review

Evans tidily unfolds a satisfying plot…. But it’s the over-arching development of the lost little boy and the harried woman’s affection and admiration for one another that really tugs the reader’s own heart crooked.... There’s great galloping joy in it.
Independent (UK)

Entertaining.... The story starts in the London blitz, in a dazzling, tragicomic prologue…. Crooked Heart is a dark comedy, moving between drollery, pathos, farce and harrowing moments of tragic insight.
Guardian (UK)

Deceptively complex and utterly charming.
Sunday Mirror (UK)

This autumn’s feel-good novel teams up two unlikely characters at the outbreak of World War II…. Evans has written an old-fashioned comedy of manners, which is heartwarming, without being mawkish, and extremely funny.
Daily Mail (UK)

I try not to say, "If there’s one novel you should read this summer..." but Crooked Heart tempts me to say it.
Scott Simon - NPR

Evans’ exceptionally engaging Crooked Heart brings effervescent wit and oddball whimsy to a venerable formula.... The entire novel is a joy from start to finish: briskly paced, taut and snappy with humor and, ultimately, sweet.
Minneapolis Star Tribune

Noel’s precociousness, combined with the distrust of authority...makes him a difficult child...and though Vera has enough of her own troubles, somehow the two of them—awkwardly but endearingly—find a connection.... [An] appealing blend of sophisticated bravado and naive fragility—all without lapsing into sentimentality.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review.) Evans explores the Blitz during World War II from two utterly inventive perspectives—that of a sharp-minded ten-year-old orphan evacuee and the unscrupulous and desperate 36-year-old suburban widow.... A charming, slanted counterpoint to Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See.  —Christine Perkins, Whatcom Cty. Lib. Syst., Bellingham, WA
Library Journal

A clever orphan and his scam-artist guardian—an odd couple in wartime London—explore the space between legally wrong and morally right. Engaging and comic.... A dark, cherishable, very English comedy about not-so-funny times and events.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also, consider these LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for Crooked Heart:

1. Probably the best place to start with this book is this: what did you think about the characters? Were your attitudes toward them different at the beginning of the book then they were by the end? If so, how do the characters change from start to finish? Or if the characters don't change, what does?

2. Most novels about World War II and the London Blitz focus on characters' heroism and bravery. What do you think about Evans's approach—honing in on characters who are hardly heroic, who take advantage of the generosity of others in times of crisis? Do desparate circumstances excuse Noel and Vee? Which type of person—the scoundrel or hero—is more prevalent in humanity...or in ourselves?

3. Reviewers are like Polonious in Hamlet, referring to Crooked Heart as comical-tragical, tragical-comical.... What do you think? Is it one...or the other...or both? If both, where does the line between comedy and tragedy fall (or blur)? Point to some areas where the writing is particularly humorous...or to other areas where it's not.

4. Lots of twists and turns in this novel: did you "see it coming"...or where you taken by surprise at the turn of events. Reviewers frequently mention Dickens. Do you see parallels?

5. Satisfying ending...or not?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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