Writing a book review without spoilers is very near impossible, but what’s the point of bigging something up and telling everyone why they should be reading it and then ruining the excitement of plot twists? So, I’m going to try my best to explain why I love this saga so much and persuade everyone to go out and buy it so I can have somebody to enthuse with; without revealing any major plot points. Sigh. Here goes.
I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, as The Shipyard Girls is currently my favourite book series (having binged them all earlier this year while I was on holiday), but the latest instalment: ‘Victory for the Shipyard Girls’ is published today so it felt like a more apt time to start some Shipyard Girls hype. I actually got my copy at the weekend because I’m so very special, or Waterstones are just extremely organised with their pre-orders being shipped (probably the latter), so I spent last Saturday curled up with my trusty squad of Women Welders and, as usual, I loved every page of it. It’s really difficult to review individual books when they’re part of a series, even more so when you’re me and tend to binge a whole saga in one go, so this review is going to be a more general review of the series and explanation as to why I love it so much. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, part of my current job entails overseeing a local library so I spend a large portion of my day talking about books (aka living the dream), and other staff have given me a bit of stick for going on about how much I love The Shipyard Girls, with one person coining the series as ‘one of those old lady books’. I know you’re only as old as you feel, but at twenty four I don’t generally class myself as an ‘old lady’, or indeed as a lady most of the time, so I can say with a reasonable degree of confidence that these are not exclusively ‘old lady books’.
I started the series with fairly low expectations – they’re always promoted in my local Waterstones and I was after a new book for my 24 hour round trip to America, so it seemed to fit the bill, but I was absolutely hooked before the ‘fasten seatbelt’ sign had gone off. The story takes place in Sunderland which is possibly why it appealed to me – there are few things more exciting than media references to your entirely unremarkable home town and I still get a little thrill when I read about these characters exploring the streets and landmarks around which I grew up. Having said that, I wouldn’t go as far as saying this series is a favourite because it’s directly relatable to me – since it takes place during the Second World War. I am somewhat of a history nerd, but again I wouldn’t say that is the main appeal of this series, because ultimately I think Nancy Revell could write this group of girls into any time period – from the Stone Age to a post-apocalyptic world after Trump inevitably destroys us all, and you would still immediately feel like they’re friends you’ve known for years after three or four pages.
Strong characters and a good plot are the foundation of any decent read, and it certainly seems like Nancy Revell knows how to do both to the nth degree. The character development is so striking but at the same time so well paced that you don’t notice it happening until it hits you in the face (in the best way). Having had a break between finishing the first four books and waiting for the fifth to be published, I now want to go back to April Me and say ‘guess what happens with Helen?’ or ‘You’ll never guess how things pan out with Gloria and Jack!’ and April Me would be absolutely blown away. And it’s not just the depth of detail within the characters that makes the reader get so invested, but their qualities; I am rooting for every single one of these women (except Miriam, bitch), even Helen and Pearl who I absolutely hated at the start. Each of them has such a rich and complex back story that you can’t help but love them, and they’re all so ferociously strong, overcoming ridiculous traumas and obstacles while trying to make space for themselves in a male dominated world that I just want to blast Christina Aguilera’s ‘Fighter’ and shout “yessssss, queens!” from the Wearmouth Bridge. Don’t get me wrong, relatable book characters are fine, hell, Bridget Jones would make the list for my fantasy dinner party, but what makes a story better than fine are characters who are not just relatable to the reader but those who also have a real strength and endurance to them that makes you think ‘wow, she is bad ass and I wish I was that fierce’.
As a self affirmed lover of ‘chick lit’ (I embrace that term, see earlier blog post, I don’t see any level of shame or guilt in it), this series is a really great palette cleanser as it has all the crucial elements of chick lit – initial heartache but eventually winning the man, strong friendships, tears, male leads that make all our boyfriends seem inadequate; but it’s all happening in a totally different context. It’s chick lit but without the lead female being a journalist in London or a shy waitress in a village tearoom – these girls are discussing their relationship issues over live welds while literally bending metal to put ships together that ultimately defeat Hitler. That’s a little bit different to your average Paige Toon or Jill Mansell (not that I don’t still love those two authors all the same!). Plus, this story isn’t centered around one girl and her secondary character friends; there is no Kelly or Michelle in Thompson’s shipyard – everyone is Beyonce in the Women Welders squad. All the characters are central, which allows for so many intertwined stories, and is ultimately what I think makes this story last over so many books without coming close to feeling tired or done, and it could easily continue over at least another few.
Well, if you aren’t convinced at this point that this series is worth trying out then I give up. Who doesn’t love some heartache and bitchy backstabbing drama peppered with strong friendships and Feminist overtones throughout? I am actually so obsessed with this series that I really wish it would be made into a TV drama; and I have never said that about any book ever – usually nothing upsets me more than a beloved book being made into a film or TV series because they’re always sub-par (I’m looking at you, Girl on the Train) – but The Shipyard Girls is so intensely great that even a half-arsed TV version would still be amazing – though I don’t think Nancy Revell would allow such an injustice. And neither would I, unless I wasn’t cast to play Rosie…
The Shipyard Girls is best enjoyed with coffee and cake in a big comfy chair.