Living in London with her father and aunts, Tally is perfectly content. But there is the war, of course, getting ever closer, and news of the Nazis every day in newspapers and on the wireless. Children are getting sent to the countryside to protect them from the coming air raids. Tally has no intention of leaving, but when her father gets the opportunity to send her to a boarding school in the country, he accepts, determined to keep her safe from the anticipated air raids on the city.
Tally does not want to go to boarding school--uniforms and field hockey and endless rules are the last things she wants to worry about, and she longs to stay with her family and friends. But when she arrives at Delderton, it turns out to be nothing like the schools she's read about in books. Students only go to classes if they want to, and the classes themselves are entirely different than she was expecting--drama and handicrafts and biology lessons in the woods are taught along with English and math. She meets children who dream of movie stars and revolutions and one with a pet axolotl. Instead of scolding and nagging, her housemother is writing a book about a German philosopher. And Tally begins to think that maybe, just maybe, Delderton is a place where she can be happy.
Karil, crown prince of Bergania, has spent his whole life surrounded by royals and officials and ceremonies, and has never had friends or felt really free. He is destined to be king someday, but he's never found a place where he feels he truly belongs. And now, with the war close at hand and his father refusing to obey Hitler's orders, tensions at the royal court make things lonelier than ever.
When Tally learns about the king of Bergania's daring stand against the Nazis, she moved by his courage and longs to visit his beautiful country. The opportunity arises when she learns of a youth folk dance festival that the country is hosting, and she gathers a group of students to choreograph a dance so that they can attend. There, she and the other students meet children from all over Europe, but for Tally, the closest friendship she forms is with someone who's not even supposed to speak to her--Karil, prince of Bergania.
Their friendship might be forbidden, but there are far more dangerous things occupying the minds of the country's leaders. And when Nazi forces infiltrate Bergania's government, it is up to Tally and her friends to help Karil escape to safety.
Eva Ibbotson is one of my favorite writers, and this book completely lived up to my high expectations. Ibbotson grew up in Vienna, Austria, but fled during World War II as a child, and it's clear that she experienced many of the things described in The Dragonfly Pool--the descriptions and details she writes with have the feel not of careful research, but of personal experience. Her writing is beautiful, and the story is poignant and moving, but still has the characteristic humor and quirkiness which I've enjoyed in many of her other books. And Tally is a wonderful main character, caring and brave but still believable, and I loved the way her friendship with Karil develops. (I also appreciated the lack of romance--so many middle grade books with girls and boys who are friends focus on it, but in The Dragonfly Pool it's all but nonexistent.) I would highly recommend it to readers ages ten and up.