Monday 2 May 2016

Reviewed: The Woolworths Girls by Elaine Everest

TITLE: The Woolworths Girls
AUTHOR: Elaine Everest
PUBLISHER: Pan Macmillan


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Can romance blossom in times of trouble?

It's 1938 and as the threat of war hangs over the country, Sarah Caselton is preparing for her new job at Woolworths. Before long, she forms a tight bond with two of her colleagues: the glamorous Maisie and shy Freda. The trio couldn't be more different, but they immediately form a close-knit friendship, sharing their hopes and dreams for the future.

Sarah soon falls into the rhythm of her new position, enjoying the social events hosted by Woolies and her blossoming romance with young assistant manager, Alan. But with the threat of war clouding the horizon, the young men and women of Woolworths realize that there are bigger battles ahead. It's a dangerous time for the nation, and an even more perilous time to fall in love . . .

The Woolworths Girls is an engaging and sentimental novel. Woolworths is a place that I think we all have some memories of. Being a child in the shop’s later days, I still remember the excitement of popping in for some pick ‘n mix and a root through the cheap toys and CDs. When discussing this book, I also learnt that my gran had worked in Woolworths when she was younger and so it is one of those places that a lot of people think fondly of. In the book, I enjoyed reading detail of the dynamics that came with working in Woolworths from the items they sold, the various departments and cheap prices – it was a proper representation of the Woolworths I think so many people will be able to recognise.

What Elaine Everest has written, whilst it is a nostalgic novel, also sees Woolworths as a form of backdrop to the impending World War II and the book follows a very emotive story of working and living through times of war and what it feels like to know your loved ones may never recover from the war that is coming. At times very touching and romantic, The Woolworths Girls also engages the reader with a series of emotional twists and turns which have you turning the pages quickly and rooting for the characters to come through it all okay.

Sarah, Freda and Maisie are the “Woolworths girls”. I loved how we were introduced to the characters together at their job interviews, and each one felt very carefully and realistically characterised by the author, with depth to their feelings and personalities evident right from the moment we meet them. Maisie is dressed up and glam and appears posh to the other girls though she is anything but. Freda is very shy and reserved at first but after making friends with Sarah and Maisie, soon comes out of her shell. Sarah is just glad to be living with her nan, Ruby, although she quickly finds herself drawn to Alan, Woolworths’ assistant manager.

The friendship between Sarah, Freda and Maisie was the highlight of this book for me. I loved getting to know them as people and seeing their bond grow. Regardless of what was taking place around them, as friends they always stood strong and it was endearing to read. Despite being very different people, they quickly became close and contributed to much of the humour and lightness to this novel. The dynamics between them and their dialogue made for refreshing reading and some of my favourite moments came at the parties and events they were together at where you could really believe them as characters and see what their friendship meant to one another.

Another character I really enjoyed reading about was Sarah’s nan who was kind and caring from the start and a bit of a rock to several characters, always there to listen and offer help and advice. Ruby was a brave and considerate woman and one I felt connected to throughout as I loved seeing the part she played in the story.

Alan was an interesting character who I wasn’t sure of early on but as I got further into the book, I could really feel the pressure and almost desperation of being in love as the war is building. Knowing things couldn’t possibly work in a perfect manner but wanting so much for that to be the case for him and Sarah.

Many novels that I have read set in this time focus firmly on the war and its brutal implications but I think that’s why I was drawn to this particular novel because it had a different edge to it. It may not have been a massively unsettling read but it was full of heart and very compelling. Beautifully told, reading the romance and nostalgia of this story whilst it draws on the war in a heart-rending fashion ensured that this book was moving and honest but at the same time, quite a pleasant read too. The Woolworths Girls is a very satisfying novel from start to finish and I’m looking forward to reading the author’s next novel as her style of writing really draws me in.


  1. I used to love Woolworth and really missed ours in town. I really enjoy books set in this era and find that it usually spurs my enthusiasm for history. I have had my eye on this book for a while.

    1. It's a lovely book, I'm sure you'd enjoy it. So many of us have Woolworths memories!


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