For Downton Abbey Buffs
It's the 1920s, and airplanes are not quite as scary as they were before the war. Wealthy Antony asks for one for his birthday, and his father lets him have one-- after all, he is impressed that Antony wants to take flying lessons instead of just trying to bring a plane home without instruction. Lily's father is the gardener for Antony's family, so she grew up with him and loves him from afar; when he wants someone to parachute from his plane, she is the only one who agrees. Antony has an older sister who is both blind and deaf, and his friends from school are enthralled by her beauty. With Lily's help, he sets up a party in the family's grotto for his school mates, but the party ends in tragedy. After his father is arrested for a variety of ill considered dealings, Antony isn't quite sure what he will do, and eventually makes some very poor choices. While Lily still pines for him, she can see that the two of them will never be together, and tries to get on with her life.
The plane, of course, are a major character as well. It's hard for us today to understand how enthralling the idea of flight was, since flight today is more like an annoying bus journey instead of a glorious "slipp[ing] the surly bonds of earth". Like cars, planes were a luxury, but also an obsession. Even my five uncles managed to pool their resources in the 1940s and bought a small plane, which they would land in the field by the family dairy!
This was definitely more of a young adult novel than one for middle grade readers; the tone is a bit more introspective and sad.
Peyton has written fantastic books about British life for a long time-- her 1967 Flambards is considered a classic, and my daughter's favorite book is her 1994 Snowfall. Sadly, for British society, these books usually show how hard it is to keep together these grand estates. Teens who got caught up in their parents' obsession for Downton Abbey will find this a distracting read, which will hopefully get them to investigate other books set during this period by authors such as Sayers, Christie and Waugh.