Desert Isle Keeper
Band of Sisters
In recent years, the bookshelves have practically overflowed with stories set during the Second World War, but if your interest lies with World War I, you probably had a harder time finding something that appealed to you. Fortunately, author Lauren Willig is releasing the perfect novel to scratch that World War I itch. Band of Sisters is the story of a group of women, all graduates of Smith College, who travel to the French countryside to bring relief to the war-torn land.
Kate Moran, once a scholarship student at Smith College, is struggling to make her way in the world shortly after graduating, so when a former classmate writes to her, begging her to join a group of Smith graduates who want to make a difference in the war effort, she reluctantly agrees to travel to France to deliver much-needed supplies. She didn’t always feel at home amidst the upper classes at Smith, but the few close friendships she forged helped to bridge the gap, and she’s hoping for something similar in France. After all, they’ll all be in the same boat, so the fact that she didn’t grow up wealthy shouldn’t pose a problem.
Of course, things don’t go quite as smoothly as Kate imagined they would. There are numerous small conflicts that exist between various members of the group, and it’s not long before Kate begins to doubt the efficacy of their relief mission. Their lodgings are barely habitable, the supplies they’re supposed to deliver can’t be found, and the overall deprivation of the countryside seems boundless. It will take every ounce of courage and fortitude the women can dredge up to keep them going through these dark times.
This novel is based on true events, and I thoroughly enjoyed this glimpse of world history. I had no idea how instrumental American women were in aiding the French during the First World War. It’s clear the author did a great deal of research into these women and their various contributions. Each character is brought to vivid life, given distinct personalities and struggles, and I found myself thoroughly captivated by the story.
Some readers might be turned off by some of the in-fighting that goes on among the protagonists. There are a wide range of life experiences represented here, and they don’t always gel well with one another. Still, I found Willig’s depiction of these conflicts to be quite realistic, and I don’t think the story would have been nearly as enjoyable if everyone had gotten along perfectly. Plus, when things get tough, all differences are put aside to ensure the safety of the group as a whole, and I appreciated the maturity shown during some of the more harrowing scenes.
Each chapter begins with an excerpt from a letter or a diary penned by one of the women. I loved this extra glimpse into the hearts and minds of characters who don’t necessarily take center stage in the book. We see things from a few different perspectives, but it would be impossible to know every single character well, and these bits of writing go a long way toward filling in some gaps.
Parts of the novel proved difficult to read, but I’d say that’s to be expected when dealing with a war story. Willig’s descriptions aren’t overly graphic, but neither does she shy away from the horrors of living through a war. The darkness is tempered by glimmers of hope, and this definitely helped me get through some of the bleaker chapters.
Band of Sisters might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I enjoyed it from start to finish. I love when a book is able to transport me to another place and time as well as teaching me something along the way, and this one did that and a whole lot more.