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The Last Lifeboat


The Last Lifeboat

THE LAST LIFEBOAT is the latest of several recent releases set in WWII Britain. In this gripping novel, Hazel Gaynor immerses us in the action from the very first page. She has us feeling the lash of the icy rain and the storm-riled waves that are tossing about the lifeboat in which Alice King has landed. Then Gaynor leaves us hanging as she abruptly takes us back in time to show how Alice ended up in that lifeboat.

Alice King and Lily Nichols come from different social classes, but both are admirable people who, at the start of the story, do not realize the depth of their inner integrity and strength. They do not know what they are capable of when pushed or how heroic their actions will be in the near future.

"[T]he pages almost turn on their own as we keep reading to find out how these women, who have become important to us, fare as they struggle to survive."

We are fortunate to witness this transformation through the beautiful crafting of this novel that Gaynor created from a real-life incident and includes some characters who are loosely based on actual figures. Alice is a teacher and librarian who feels compelled to break out of her "safe" life and do something for her country. She volunteers to be an escort for children who are being evacuated from London to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other former British colonies. Her ship is headed to Canada, and the parents and most on the ship believe that there will be a military convoy accompanying them.

Lily is a widow and mother of two who must decide whether or not to send her children to safety and away from London, where bombs are falling, destroying neighborhoods and killing families caught in the maelstrom. She ultimately chooses to part with them, as she balances the dangers of traveling over the ocean versus staying in London.

Reading about these women and the others we meet, we gain a better understanding of the breadth of feelings of the British citizens during the war. In fact, this is the first time I've read about a conscientious objector during WWII. Between Lily living in London and worrying about bombs, and Alice in the last lifeboat that left the sinking ship, the action is nonstop. We become immersed in their lives as we see them call upon reserves of strength that were previously unknown. The ending is bittersweet as not everyone survives the days adrift in the ocean, but it is realistic and upbeat.

Gaynor lays bare the mistakes that were made in sending children overseas and the decisions that endangered them. Her ability to fictionalize an actual event and make it real to us is brilliant. Furthermore, the pages almost turn on their own as we keep reading to find out how these women, who have become important to us, fare as they struggle to survive.

Reviewed by Pamela Kramer on June 17, 2023

The Last Lifeboat
by Hazel Gaynor