A Girl Divided
I absolutely adore historical novels that center around the Second World War, but I will admit to being the tiniest bit tired of all the books set in either Europe or America. So when I saw that A Girl Divided took place in China, I was eager to read it, thinking it would give me a different perspective. In many ways, it fulfilled those expectations, and yet there were a few things that kept me from fully enjoying the story, making it a book I can’t really recommend.
Twenty-two-year-old Eugenia Baker lives with her missionary father in rural China in 1942. She enjoys helping her father with his work, and she honestly can’t imagine doing anything else. Some might call her life simple or boring, but it’s the only life Genie has ever known.
When Mr. Baker rescues an American pilot from a downed plane, he and Genie learn that their peaceful existence is being threatened by the Japanese forces who are intent on making their way into China. Lieutenant Ted Younan is one of the pilots known as Flying Tigers, a unit of volunteers whose mission is to protect China from arial attacks by the Japanese. Ted is very grateful to Mr. Baker for saving his life, and tells him to leave the country before it’s too late, but Mr. Baker is utterly devoted to his missionary work and decides to remain where he is for the time being. He does, however, want Genie to leave, and he asks Ted to escort her across the mountains so she can escape to the United States. He asks his young assistant Nathan to accompany Ted and Genie on their journey. He plans for Nathan to look after Genie until he can get to the U.S. himself.
Genie is quite resistant to her father’s plan at first. The idea of leaving behind everyone and everything she knows and loves terrifies her, and she begs her father to let her stay with him, but Mr. Baker will not be swayed, and she eventually gives in and agrees to leave with Ted and Nathan.
Right from the start, Genie is fascinated by Ted and his western way of viewing the world. He begins to encourage her to take charge of her own life rather than let others constantly make decisions for her. Initially, Genie can’t imagine being in charge of her own affairs, but as time passes and she is introduced to new people and new customs, her way of thinking changes.
The journey to the United States is long and perilous, and by the time Genie finally reaches her destination, she has no money and no chaperone. You’re probably wondering what happened to Nathan, but I’m going to let you find the answer out on your own, since I don’t want to give too much away. At first, I wondered if Genie would be up to the challenge of making a new life for herself completely on her own, but she eventually manages it. Of course, she makes several missteps along the way, something I was glad of since it wouldn’t have been at all believable for her to get everything right the very first time around.
A Girl Divided is classified as an historical romance, but it felt more like women’s fiction to me. While there is a bit of a romantic subplot, the central focus of the novel is Genie’s journey of self-discovery. She’s incredibly naive at the beginning of the book, something I was a little annoyed by at certain points of the story, but she slowly becomes more aware of herself and the world she inhabits. It’s not at all an easy journey, since many of the people Genie meets end up treating her quite badly, but she triumphs in the end.
I don’t have a lot of patience with books that seem to be preaching at me, and while Ms. Lindseth doesn’t fall into this trap terribly often, I did skim through a few lengthy passages that felt a little too preachy for my liking. Genie did grow up as the daughter of a missionary, so I expected a certain amount of discussion of spiritual matters, but there ended up being just a little too much of it for me.
It’s not that this is a bad book. In fact, I think it might be a wonderful book for a certain type of reader, but unfortunately, I didn’t end up being that person. Ms. Lindseth’s writing is truly beautiful, and I loved learning more about how World War II affected China, but the story didn’t draw me in the way I hoped it would. It simply didn’t satisfy me, and I was relieved to reach the end so I could move on to something I’ll hopefully enjoy more.