This is a coming-of-age novel set in the 1950s and 60s in Lancashire. Its point-of-view protagonist is Ellen, a working class girl who becomes friends with middle class Erica when she goes to the convent school in the neighbouring town. Focussing on both Ellen’s home life and her school life (which she tries to keep separate), the novel explores the gains and the losses that education and religion provide over the course of her school years.
Thematically, it’s a novel about friendship, love, loss, and death. Social class is also dealt with lightly.
There are dark passages in the novel, but also much humour.
Each chapter is a month of the year – beginning with September to reflect the structure of the school year. This framework also allows for treatment of the seasons and the liturgical year. The months are sequential but the years are not. Between September 1959 and September 1966 the years go back and forth (with some flashbacks to earlier years).