This is the story of two adolescent girls who are evacuated from Edinburgh at the beginning of World War II. The protagonist, Marjorie, is a painfully shy, wealthy orphan who lives with her inattentive uncle. Brash, confident Shona is a poor orphan who lives at the nearby orphanage and doesn't know her own lineage. Marjorie is supposed to be going to Canada to stay with relatives that she has never met and Shona is being shipped off to the country. However, Marjorie is terrified of boats due to the fact that her parents died in a boat accident. She also doesn't want to live with relatives she doesn't know. Shona, on the other hand, has always been envious of Marjorie's life and doesn't want to go to the country. So the two girls end up switching identities in the train station. Shona goes to Canada and Marjorie goes to the country where she ends up using Shona's few possessions to solve the mystery of Shona's heritage.
The book ends years later after the war has ended, and an 18-year-old Marjorie returns to Edinburgh to find Shona, tell her the truth of her parentage, and switch back as they agreed as children. Shona, however, flatly refuses to acknowledge that the switch occurred and declares that she is Marjorie Malcolm-Scott and there's nothing Marjorie can do about it. The final lines of the book feature Marjorie comforting herself by reflecting that Shona can keep her family, her wealth, and her name because in the course of living Shona's life she has become bold and confident and as such "found herself."
This book scarred me as a child. Though I couldn't articulate it then, outside of the overwhelming Do Not Want inherent in the injustice of Shona stealing Marjorie's life, the biggest problem with this book is that Marjorie's finding herself is accomplished only through imitating someone else. She never becomes a stronger, better Marjorie, she just becomes a watered down Shona. It would have been more empowering if she faced her fears and moved to Canada and then grown from that experience, rather than running away from the root of her problems and losing herself in someone else's identity.
Overall, this book is deeply unsatisfying, more than a little distressing, and botches its intended moral.
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