Letters From Home
In this digital age we often miss out on the simple things in life. Like letters. Nothing is quite as enduring or soul bearing as a letter. With a letter, you can’t be brief, like a text or email, you can’t just cover what you are doing this minute, since that will be irrelevant by the time it is received. A letter tends to convey more heart than it does a breakdown of our day to day drudgery. You can truly get to know someone in a letter, not something that can always be said about Facebook or Twitter.
Liz Stephens loves sharing her home with her friends Julia and Betty. The arrangement has worked out perfectly while Liz finishes her college education, Julia goes to fashion school and plans her wedding, and Betty does her waitressing while waiting to be discovered as the next great voice. But things begin to slowly unravel in the summer of 1944 as everyone waits for the war to finally end. Betty makes her debut at a a USO dance but it doesn’t lead to the success she has hoped for. Liz fights with her fiancee when he leaves her at the dance they were to attend together, tired of him standing her up for every event while he campaigns for his father’s senate race. Julia is offered a chance to intern at Vogue but knows she can’t because her family and fiancee would disapprove. They all know it is time to make changes, to meet the future that is so rapidly being changed by this world at war.
To that end, Betty makes a career move that takes her as far from home as she could possibly ever have imagined. Julia, torn between a career as a fashion designer and being the stay at home bride her family wants, begins spending more time with her soon to be brother-in-law Ian. Ian is the only member of her new family that doesn’t love her and she is determined to win his affection. Liz begins writing to a soldier in Betty’s name, at first as a favor to a friend and continuing as she realizes that she has more in common with him than Betty ever could. As each girl struggles with this bright, new (and sometimes artificial) life she is creating for her self, can love truly win the day? And will it be old loves – or new?
This is very much a coming of age tale, a story of that time when a woman leaves behind the expectation of her family, friends and even her own childish heart to become who she wants to be. I love the way the author showed how each decision led to something unexpected, how every choice was fraught with peril. Especially for these gals, who were coming of age in a time when women were just starting to come into our own and had few options beyond marriage and children. The character who best highlights this is Julia – a woman with tremendous talent and promise who very much wants to be the person her family and fiancee expect her to be. While Liz and Betty were always going to forge a unique route for themselves, Julia was the one torn between the world as it was and the world as it would be. It is interesting to watch her juggle love and a desire to succeed. It is even better to watch her struggle between two men – the one perfect for her and the other just perfect. Her decisions, choices and life best highlight this unique time in our history. I loved reading about them.
I also loved reading about Betty, who sees what life has handed her and decides to pursue a better helping. Her new job takes her to exciting locales and dangerous places, but it also teaches her more about life than she ever bargained for. And she learns every lesson, even the ones pounded into her the hard way. I adored how Betty schemed, worked, and overcame what life threw at her over and over again. She was my heroine, the one I could relate to, the one I wanted to see succeed. I think I loved her so much because she just refused to let life knock her down. She was loud and boisterous and full of vim and vigor, as they said in her time. She was a good friend and just genuinely a great person. Her storyline left me anxious for more.
While this novel is primarily about Liz and the relationship she formed through her letters with Morgan, I actually found that the least interesting part of the story. I couldn’t help wondering why Liz never opened up to Morgan about who she really was. I also couldn’t quite get a handle on her relationship with Dalton, her fiance, who had been an important part of her life since childhood. But I felt like she let him drift away from her without any effort to reign him back in and rebuild that connection. I was glad to see her and her father heal their rift, but since it felt like all I saw from Liz was the building and breaking of her relationships I felt like I missed out on really knowing her.
The romance in this story is pretty mild – the emphasis is on the characters and their growth. The author does such a great job that this tale really does shine. And the love stories are there – they just aren’t front and center all the time. This is a great book for a time when you just want to sit back and really experience life as our grandparents lived it, to connect with that time people say belonged to the greatest generation. But it also transcends time and place to take you back to that moment when you were young and just realizing that in many ways only you could captain your own destiny. Those are a lot of emotions and impressions to pack into a novel, but the author succeeds and turns this unique reading experience into a real journey of the heart that I am pleased to recommend to anyone looking for something different to read.