The Little Wartime Library

Photo of The Little Wartime Library paperback on brick stairs

The Little Wartime Library by Kate Thompson

Publisher: Forever
Publication Date: February 17, 2023
Genres: Historical Fiction

Book Review

When the Bethnal Green Library is destroyed by a German bomb, librarian Clara Green moves the library into the Bethnal Green tube station. In the underground, an entire community forms to provide shelter and other services for those whose homes were destroyed in the blitz, with the library as the heartbeat of the makeshift village. Clara and her best friend and assistant, Ruby, spend their time matching avid readers with new books, creating programs for the shelter children, and providing a safe space for women in the community. But as the war drags on, Clara and Ruby are met with endless adversity as they try to meet the needs of their neighbors.

The Little Wartime Library focuses on the importance of libraries, not just for readers, but for everyone. It brings into perspective how well they create a safe space for so many, even in an underground shelter. I love how aggressively Clara advocates for her patrons, especially the children living in the shelter. She truly creates a safe place for so many, during a time of so much uncertainty. 

While set during a time when women had more freedom, it brings into perspective how few choices women truly had in the 1940s. Many are told by their husbands that they shouldn’t be reading or that they can only read a certain type of book. I loved how defiant so many were. One of my favorite parts is when the library can acquire copies of a steamy American book and it becomes the most requested book at the library.

This is a thoroughly unique and original book! I devoured it in two days. I typically don’t read World War II fiction, but I made an exception for this one because I resonated with the concept. If you’re an avid reader who loves the library and enjoys historical fiction, this book is for you!

Thank you so much to Forever for the advanced copy! All opinions are my own. 

Synopsis from Goodreads

An uplifting and inspiring novel based on the true story of a librarian who created an underground shelter during World War II, perfect for readers of The Paris Library or The Last Bookshop in London. 

London, 1944 : Clara Button is no ordinary librarian. While war ravages the city above her, Clara has risked everything she holds dear to turn the Bethnal Green tube station into the country’s only underground library. Down here, a secret community thrives with thousands of bunk beds, a nursery, a café, and a theater—offering shelter, solace, and escape from the bombs that fall upon their city.

Along with her glamorous best friend and assistant Ruby Munroe, Clara ensures the library is the beating heart of life underground. But as the war drags on, the women’s determination to remain strong in the face of adversity is tested to the limits when it may come at the price of keeping those closest to them alive.

About the Author

Headshot of author Kate Thompson

Kate Thompson was born in London in 1974, and worked as a journalist for twenty years on women’s magazines and national newspapers. She now lives in Sunbury with her husband, two sons and a Lurcher called Ted. After ghost writing five memoirs, Kate moved into fiction. Kate’s first non-fiction social history documenting the forgotten histories of East End matriarchy, The Stepney Doorstep Society, was published in 2018 by Penguin. Her seventh novel, The Little Wartime Library is to be published by Hodder & Stoughton in the spring of 2022.

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