Savannah Magazine: The River Child
Written by KENDALL MCKINNON
The River Child
Bluffton-based bestselling author Patti Callahan Henry’s newest tale transports readers to England on a heartfelt and magical mystery.
A LOST SISTER. An imaginary world.
A real war. A secret book.
In Patti Callahan Henry’s newest tale, “The Secret Book of Flora Lea,” readers are swept away with Hazel Linden as she uncovers the truth of her sister Flora’s disappearance 20 years prior — a journey ignited by the magical land of Hazel’s own childhood creation, Whisperwood, returning to
The author of 17 novels — including “Surviving Savannah” and “Becoming Mrs. Lewis” — Henry was working on another book when the spark for this story first appeared. One particular bit of British history struck her: Operation Pied Piper, 1939.
“In Operation Pied Piper, children from large British cities were sent away from their families to protect them from the German bombs that were sure to come,” Henry explains.
From this anecdote sprouted Hazel and Flora as two of those children, and Henry found herself
intrigued not only by the operation itself, but also by its namesake.
“The Pied Piper is this terrible German legend where a piper leads the children out of the city, and they are never seen again,” says Henry. She wondered why the government would choose such a name for an operation meant to keep children safe. “And then my wheels just started turning.”
The sisters, Henry decided, would be sent to Binsey, a small village in the English countryside along the River Thames. Not only was Binsey one of the locations British officials deemed safe and sent the evacuated children, but it also houses the meadow that inspired parts of Lewis Carroll’s
“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” as well as the Treacle Well where St. Frideswide (patron saint of Oxford) brought forth healing waters.
“Binsey was the perfect legend-soaked setting to send my sisters,” says Henry.
The stories of an evacuee childhood and the shattering loss of Flora run through the book alongside another. Hazel, two decades later, is met with a whisper of her sister that upends the narrative of everything she thought she knew.
“I wanted the mystery to drive the story forward,” says Henry.
To complete her story, Henry journeyed across England as her characters would have, documenting her travels and the synchronistic moments along the way in a travel journal, available to those who pre-order the novel.
“It was like falling into my book,” says Henry. “It was astounding.”
Within and throughout this novel is what Henry describes as “a reminder that we are a myth-making people; it is how we make meaning of the meaningless and sense of the senseless. It is why we tell stories.”
The book is about heartache, grief and the bond between sisters. It is about the force of first
love and hope for the future.
“What I want my readers to do is feel something, and I want them to feel something that matters to them,” the author says.
Henry’s book tour for “The Secret Book of Flora Lea” launches May 2 in Savannah at E. Shaver
THE SECRET BOOK OF FLORA LEA
Author: Patti Callahan Henry
Release Date: May 2, 2023
Publisher/Imprint: Atria Books
Hardcover, e-book, audio, hardcover, paperback, and audio CD
Narrator: Award-winning, Cynthia Erivo by Simon & Schuster Audio
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