Summerhills is the sequel to Amberwell by D. E. Stevenson. This book focuses primarily on three of the adult Ayrton children.
Roger is the oldest and the heir since his father died. But he assured his four siblings that Amberwell would always be the family home and they would always be welcome. In the last book, his wife had died in the London bombings, leaving him with their infant son, who nearly died as well. Since Roger was in the military, he sent his son, Stephen, home to Amberwell to be taken care of by his sister, Nell. In this book, Stephen is approaching the age to go to boarding school. But Nell can’t stand the thought of Stephen being sent away. Roger had inherited his wife’s fortune and had been pondering the best way to use it. Now he decides perhaps opening a boarding school nearby would help others as well as himself and Stephen. Summerhills is the name of the new school, and almost all of Roger’s time on leave is spent preparing for the school: consulting with a builder, finding a headmaster, etc. Roger had no interest in other women. He felt his wife was the only woman he would ever love. But perhaps becoming reacquainted with a childhood friend will reawaken the part of his heart that he thought was closed.
Nell had kept Amberwell afloat all during the war. With the loss of most of the staff during the war, Nell continues all of the tasks involved in attending to Amberwell while also caring for her nephew and her confused mother. Nell had always been the shyest Ayrton, content to be at home. When her brother Tom’s friend, Dennis, comes to visit, he is drawn to her. But he knows he will have to win her slowly, through friendship, before he can share his heart.
Ann had been missing from a large part of the last book after her aunt more or less pushed her into marrying a man that her parents would not have approved of. In time, this man proved abusive and eventually died. Ann did her best to provide for her young daughter on her own until the rector of their village found her and urged her to come home. Now she keeps house for the rector. The new headmaster is an old friend, and Ann senses he would like for their relationship to develop into something more. But marriage has been ruined for her.
Tom, the other brother, is away at sea throughout the book but is mentioned. Connie, the oldest sister, had been married and had three children in the last book, and had gotten hold of a book advising against thwarting or correcting children. Consequently, her children are rude, uncontrolled little monsters.
There are comic scenes, often involving Connie’s children, a pretty young governess, and the banter between Nanny and Mrs. Duff, the cook. There’s not a great deal to the plot besides getting the school ready and the various romances. But it’s a sweet, cozy book with some touching moments.
A couple of characters’ fates were left up in the air. There is no other sequel, but, according the this site, some from Amberwell make an appearance in a later book, Still Glides the Stream.
Objectionable elements: a few “damns” and mentions of blacks and Chinese that would be considered racist today. Though I don’t condone such references, I wouldn’t avoid a book with them any more than I would avoid any book where the characters do something wrong in some way.
I listened to the audiobook, wonderfully read by the same reader who narrated Amberwell, Leslie Mackie.
(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)