The One True Love of Alice-Ann
Given the steady-paced, un-romance-like beginning, I was prepared to place The One True Love of Alice-Ann in the general Inspirational Fiction category. After the first chapters, however, the romantic pace picks up and provides a lovely story of how a young girl learns to distinguish between affectionate friendship and mature and lasting love.
It’s Alice-Ann Branch’s sixteenth birthday in rural Bynum, Georgia. She’s excited about her birthday party because she plans to tell Boyd MacKay—“Mack” to his friends and older than her by four years—that she loves him and will be devoted to him forever. A brief radio announcement changes her life, for not only is this her birthday, it is also Sunday, December 7, 1941, the day Japan attacks Pearl Harbor. Alice-Ann tries to accept that her party is ruined while struggling to understand the import of the attack. Two weeks after the momentous news, the interrupted party goes on, as much for the boys leaving to fight as for Alice-Ann’s birthday. She does tell Mack how she feels, but Mack’s reaction is lukewarm. His lighthearted attitude tells her he loves her as a friend, but she clings to the hope that his devotion will grow. Alice-Ann promises to write and silently vows she’ll stay true to him until he returns.
For two years, Alice-Ann holds on to her dream of being with Mack. She writes to him as she promised, goes to school, works a job in town, and helps out on her family’s farm. She also writes to Carlton Hillis, her best friend’s brother, who serves as a combat movie cameraman. So far, Bynum has been blessed in that its boys are safe, but the first combat death stuns the town and then Carlton returns home blind and paralyzed – both conditions hopefully temporary. Worried about Mack’s fate and needing a distraction, Alice-Ann agrees to read to Carlton each day after work, and their daily time together becomes the foundation of a deep friendship.
Carlton’s girlfriend rejected him soon after seeing the extent of his injuries, so he is grateful for Alice-Ann’s reading and easy company. Although he grows to love her, he knows she is attached to Mack and he refrains from expressing his deeper feelings. When Mack’s plane is shot down over the Pacific and all are presumed dead, Alice-Ann grieves, but in time opens herself to Carlton’s steady affection and, ultimately, to his love. They are married on Alice-Ann’s nineteenth birthday.
At the beginning of the book, the description of life in rural Georgia is interesting and charming, but for romance devotees, the first few chapters may feel slow. Once Carlton comes home from the war, however, the pace of the novel speeds up as the love story develops. Carlton is the kind of man mothers wish for their daughters – a character I really liked. He’s reliable, personable, a good provider and devoted to the woman he loves.
The conflict of the romance is the ever-present, yet absent, Mack. From the townspeople, we learn Mack is not the ‘settling-down’ type, and no one considers him a good match for Alice-Ann, yet even so, she clings to her fantasy. Events turn so that Alice-Ann must face Mack one final time and decide what kind of man she wants beside her through the joys and sorrows of life. Until then, Carlton feels confident of her love, but despairs when she reveals her own doubts. Within the conflict, the story explores the qualities that make a good spouse, especially the importance of shared values and mutual devotion in marriage.
Throughout the storytelling, I felt an emotional distance from the characters because the events are shown consistently from Alice-Ann’s perspective, the view of a young girl, rather than an adult. The privations and horrors of war are not allowed to dominate the story, where the portrait of a resilient people coping during wartime inspires without high drama. For example, Carlton is a photographer who has possibly lost his sight, but in his manner, we see little anxiety about his future, only a steady forbearance.
The book encapsulates the growth of a girl, who at sixteen is focused mainly on herself and her own feelings, but at nineteen has broadened her view. Her realization near the end of the book that she was unaware of the losses a high-school friend has suffered is a turning point in her maturation, depicted just when we would expect it.
Ms. Everson’s research into the period is evident in the historical details smoothly intertwined with the romance, reminding readers of the war and rhythms of rural life in the 1940s and making for a well-balanced story. In a good inspirational romance, effective presentation of the spiritual message is key, and the book shines in this regard. Instead of overt preaching of the traditional Christian message, the characters and situations offer wisdom and revelation that are pertinent to the story and to Alice-Ann’s spiritual development.
If you like your historical romance with a sweet, light and inspiring touch, I recommend The One True Love of Alice-Ann. It’s the kind of book that grandmothers and teenaged granddaughters alike can enjoy and share.