I got teary before the end of the Prologue! This book moved me, entertained me, and took me someplace new.
Synopsis (from TLC Book Tours page): A story of love, war, loss, and the scars they leave, Next to Love follows the lives of three young women and their men during the years of World War II and its aftermath, beginning with the men going off to war and ending a generation later, when their children are on the cusp of their own adulthood.
Set in a small town in Massachusetts, the novel follows three childhood friends, Babe, Millie, and Grace, whose lives are unmoored when their men are called to duty. And yet the changes that are thrust upon them move them in directions they never dreamed possible—while their husbands and boyfriends are enduring their own transformations. In the decades that follow, the three friends lose their innocence, struggle to raise their children, and find meaning and love in unexpected places. And as they change, so does America—from a country in which people know their place in the social hierarchy to a world in which feminism, the Civil Rights movement, and technological innovations present new possibilities—and uncertainties. And yet Babe, Millie, and Grace remain bonded by their past, even as their children grow up and away and a new society rises from the ashes of the war.
It's no secret that I am a huge fan of novels set in the 1940s, so I have quite a few books of this era on my bookshelf. In company with The Book Thief, Sarah's Key and A Fierce Radiance, it's not often that a book impresses or surprises me. NEXT TO LOVE made me see this era in a whole new way.
Babe, Millie, and Grace, the narrators of this story, were changed by the war and its aftermath. Friends since childhood, with dreams of the future, they were among those who rushed to get married before the boys went to war. Three friends had three very different roads ahead of them.
Not only did the characters change, but the face of America was forever changed.
I never realized just how much the women's movement, and the civil rights movement, began with WWII. Women were called to work, with the understanding that they would go back "where they belonged" after the men returned from the war. Women wanted to know, What did that mean? Anti-semitism was still alive and well, and black Americans still had a long way to go to earn equality, even though they were all American soldiers fighting on the same side overseas.
Was this book about the civil rights movement? Not entirely. This was just one of the details that I took away from it. NEXT TO LOVE is ultimately about love, friendship, and a changed nation. It's about sacrifices, loss, and growth.
The first person present tense, and the switching of the narrators, kept this book from being perfect for me. Babe, Millie, and Grace did not always have unique voices, so I had to pay very close attention to whose chapter I was reading.
All in all, I really enjoyed this book. It was unique, entertaining, and heartfelt.
About the Book:
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau (July 26, 2011)
About the Author: (From TLC Book Tours page) Ellen Feldman, a 2009 Guggenheim Fellow, is the author of Scottsboro, which was shortlisted for the UK’s prestigious Orange Prize, as well as The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank, which was translated into nine languages, and Lucy. In addition to writing novels, she contributes to several blogs and has lectured extensively in this country, England, and Germany. Her new novel, Next to Love, will be published July 2011.