genre: historical fiction
Mary is living a perfectly sensible life in London when World War II begins. She's from a respectable family and is expected to behave as such. But with the announcement of war, she rashly decides to join up and is assigned as a school teacher. Teaching those children that have fallen through the cracks of the evacuation, her role as teacher picks up her life and turns it in a different direction. The people she meets change her, unutterably.
Tom and Alastair are close friends when one of them chooses to enlist and the other chooses to stay home. But in London, even home isn't safe and these three young adults will watch their world change forever as Hilter unleashes his fury on Europe.
This took me a surprisingly long time to read. I liked it - it was the book I always chose to read if I had time, but I wasn't MAKING time to read it, if that distinction matters. It took a long time for me to invest, for some reason - although, again, I did LIKE it.
I like Mary as a character - sharp and witty. I understand her weaknesses and can imagine her pain living through the Blitz. I have read so many books about World War II and this one does do a particularly good job of forcing the reader to THINK about the Blitz, what that life must've been like, not having our hindsight and knowing that it will eventually end.
However, other parts didn't seem to sit quite as well historically, based on what I've read in other places - racial division felt played up to prove a point. I appreciated the point, but nonetheless had a hard time swallowing it.
What I did like the most was some of the things it made me think about - about how I might handle this very real situation. What would I do if my friends all around me were dying? If my beloved city was literally being blown to bits? If I was in a city under seige? If I was mortally wounded and could save myself by allowing a lie to pass as a truth, would I? I think this book delves more into the psychological pain of war than others and I appreciated that it made me think. I just kept waiting for that beautiful minute, though. The one amidst the devastation that shines a light - any kind of light - on the strength of the human condition. The one where unrelated plots and ideas suddenly come together in a way that blows my mind. I just never really found it but it was a good enough book that I really hoped I would.