Finish Time: 4-5 nights. Sticking with my love of historical fiction for this read, this book did not disappoint. Full of heartache, self-discovery, mystery, and historical truths, this book transported me back to a time when “the world was young.”
The book begins with a very young Wally, a child of a soldier stationed overseas, living with her mother, who is described very much like a child herself. She is a child you can’t help but want to hug and protect. She is surrounded by a cast of characters, her mom, grandmother, her grandmother’s maid and her son, a family friend, and a few others, who do seem to love and care about her, but each so wrapped up in their own lives, she seems to be on her own.
An unlikely friendship develops with Ham, the son of her grandmother’s maid. Ham is a few years her senior, and of a different race, but they have a great relationship and much of the book follows their adventures. Ham introduces Wally to insects, specifically ants, which sparks an interest in her that follows her throughout the book. Kind of a weird side-story, I know a lot more about ants than I ever cared to, but her passion for them and eventual study of them is pivotal in Wally’s life, so definitely a welcome addition to the story.
Wally searches for answers about her father and mother throughout the book, so kind of a mystery going on too behind the scenes. The reader knows (or understands) more than she does, but with age a few more answers are revealed. The book probably follows Wally over the course of 15-20 years, so some times are very detailed, while others are glanced over. But I felt gave the reader a good picture of WWII and the struggles of those on both sides – sides in this case being those in the states versus those overseas. It addresses a few “controversial topics” and has some very sweet moments.
I was between 3-4 stars on this one again (happens a lot for me – but trying to stick to the round numbers), as there were times it was hard to focus, but overall it held my interest and was a good historical fiction. But in comparing it to some other books of late, it fell a little short. Good read, kind of predictable, but a great glimpse into when the world was young!
Description from Amazon:
Wally Baker is no ordinary girl. Living in her grandparents’ Brooklyn Heights brownstone, she doesn’t like dresses, needlepoint, or manners. Her love of Wonder Woman comics and ants makes her feel like a misfit—especially in the shadow of her dazzling but unstable mother, Stella.
Acclaimed author Elizabeth Gaffney’s irresistible novel captures postwar Brooklyn through Wally’s eyes, opening on V-J day, as she grows up with the rest of America. Reeling from her own unexpected wartime tragedy and navigating an increasingly fraught landscape, Wally is forced to confront painful truths about the world—its sorrows, its prejudices, its conflicts, its limitations. But Wally also finds hope and strength in the unlikeliest places.
With an unforgettable cast of characters, including the increasingly distant and distracted Stella; Loretta, the family’s black maid and Wally’s second mother; Ham, Loretta’s son, who shares Wally’s enthusiasm for ants and exploration; Rudy, Wally’s father, a naval officer, away serving in the Pacific; and Mr. Niederman, the family’s boarder, who never seems to answer Wally’s questions—and who she suspects may have something to hide—Elizabeth Gaffney crafts an immersive, beautifully realized novel about the truths that divide and the love that keeps us together