Friday, 22 June 2012

A review of "The Secret Hen House Theatre" by Helen Peters

Hey there, People in the Ether,

   This debut novel is based on the author's childhood experiences of farm life and amateur theatre.

   Hannah longs to be a playwright, a director, an actress. It's a way to feel connected to her deceased mother and to escape the sadness of her father, the mayhem of a ramshackle farmyard, three taxing siblings, many animals and some annoying school mates. Her partner in thespianism is best friend Lottie. Together they write a play, design costumes and build a clandestine theatre in a long forgotten hen house. They recruit the eccentric sisters and brother and overcome disasters, peer problems and parental disapproval to stage the play as part of a local arts festival.

    Meanwhile, the dilapidated but charming farm is under threat as rents sky rocket, funds evaporate and catastrophe strikes. Hannah hatches many plans to help her father and preserve the farm. Will any of them succeed?


   This is a heartwarming story told lovingly and with great conviction. Hannah is a charming protagonist, a bit egotistical, flawed and confused, she is a believable pre-teen. I enjoyed how Peters drew the other kids and adults, they are three dimensional - especially Hannah's father who is trapped by his grief, money worries and prone to swearing (though we never read any of his choice vocabulary). The farmyard is effectively evoked. The theatre theme never turns too lovey nor does the DIY become too Swallows-and-Amazons-y. Everything is very nice and neat and tidy by the close but that is forgivable because of the pleasant read and the fact that there are some choice scenes of pre-teen drama and mild violence thrown in for good measure.

    I very much enjoyed this novel, though it is at the young and innocent end of the YA market. It wears that youth and innocence lightly. I look forward Helen Peters' future work.

     Thanks for reading,

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