This is a heart-warming story about social status, privilege and identity. The moral being: Don’t be ashamed of where you come from and who you are.
In this story the protagonist, Penny Nolan, lives in a place ominously referred to as ‘The Flats’. The flats have poor lighting, rats and a damp problem. Penny feels that people look down on her because of where she comes from, for not having enough money. She longs to escape.
When Penny befriends Violet Fitzsimons, the mysterious elderly woman living in the large house next door, she feels a sense of escape as Violet teaches her to play the piano and tells stories of her much-loved schooldays at a respectable boarding school called Pearlbourne. Hearing about Pearlbourne makes Penny jealous. It makes her realise, properly, how different she and her friends from The Flats are, and she becomes determined to find a way to attend Pearlbourne herself. However, when Penny eventually finds herself thrust into a world of privilege, her shame about who she is and where she comes from grows.
This is the story of a poor girl in a rich world. A girl who has to earn respect, rather than be born with it. A girl who feels she has to lie about everything, her friends, her family, and her life, just to be accepted by society. This is the story of someone pretending to be something she isn’t, even though the person she was originally was just as good, in fact, better.
This is a story of family, friends, lies, secrets, playing, working, acting, hiding and pretending. This is a story of how much good a person can do when fuelled by cold, hard ambition.