The Little Exiles chiefly tells Jon Heather’s story of how he was sent to the Chapeltown Boys’ Home when his mother’s health declines. Jon is convinced through the early weeks that his mother will come for him but it is not to be and instead he finds himself on a boat to Australia. Not long ago he had been an eight year old boy waiting for his father to return home from World War II, now he has lost his mother, his twin elder sisters and gained a group of boys, both friendly and unfriendly, for a long voyage.
Jon’s story has a real ring of authenticity about it; we all now know that historically many children’s homes were not caring places. Cut adrift from all they have known Jon and his two closest friends, Peter and George, have to find their own way to survive. Ways to cope with the men in black who they know are child snatchers who don’t need to wait until darkness to come. There are many characters in this book which covers more than fifteen years of Jon’s life.
Although this book is well told as well being a worthy story to tell it didn’t grip me. It is a long book, 426 pages, and I didn’t take to Jon’s character. I think this was probably intentional, after all a boy separated from all he knows by thousands of miles is not going to be unscathed, but in all honesty I found the middle section a bit of a slog. I did however enjoy the last section, where the lessons the boys learnt early in life become crystallised.