This was a book about war which, of course, had its dark moments, but left me feeling optimistic.
It is written entirely from the perspective of Alfie Summerfield who is 5 at the book's start and 9 at the end. Though he spends more time skipping school than attending, he is a clever and resourceful young boy.
The day after Alfie's 5th birthday World War I breaks out and his father enlists. At first, while his father is in training, Alfie and his mother receive upbeat letters about the antics of his father's fellow soldiers. But after his father is deployed, the letters become increasingly desperate then difficult to understand. This leads Alfie's mother to hide them - but, being clever, he finds them. He starts to worry when the letters stop coming; he is sure his father has died and no one wants to tell him. So he sets out to find out what has happened to his father.
There are several interesting side stories - Alfie's best friend is the English born daughter of a Czech Jewish immigrant shopkeeper. When war breaks out they are sent to an enemy internment camp on the Isle of Man. Alfie can't figure out why this would happen (as it doesn't really make sense). He also takes the opportunity to borrow the shoe shine kit his neighbour left behind and to set up shop as a shoe shine boy at the train station to supplement his mother's earnings. There is one funny scene where he ends up shining the Prime Minister's shoes.
The story of Alfie's pacifist neighbour, and the abuse and imprisonment he suffers for being a conscientious objector, is also interesting.
But the main theme is Alfie's quest to find out what happened to his father - and it is a general lesson on the suffering of World War I soldiers.
I quite enjoyed this book.