Thursday, June 28, 2007

Book Review - The Girls They Left Behind

The Girls They Left Behind is a 2007 Red Maple Nominee. This young adult read is about the women, young and old, daughters, finances, girlfriends, newlyweds, and mothers who watched the boys and men in their lives go off to fight in World War II. It is about the loneliness, the fear and anxiety, the grief women of all ages experienced during the war years, in a Canadian context.

The book is based on the author, Bernice Thurman Hunter's, experiences as a teenager. Prophetically, Bernice asked her daughter, Heather, to finish the book should anything happen to her prior to the its completion.

Through the eyes, of Beryl who insists upon being called Natalie, we see how young women watched as boyfriends left for war, how mothers dealt with sons enlisting, and how some "never came back". The book alternates between journal style with diary entries and chapters.

This book really resonated with me because it brought back memories my own mother had shared with me about her experiences during the Second World War which started when she was just 16 years old. The most poignant memory was about my mom's first boyfriend who enlisted in 1940 and died overseas in 1941. He was her first love and my mother spoke about how she found out about his death one day when she entered the soda shop where all her friends gathered after work. My mom had a locket with her initials on the front and a picture of the two of them inside. That she still had possession of this locket and spoke often about this man, led me to believe that she carried this loss with her throughout her life.

This quick read is highly recommended for young teens. It is a realistic portrayal of what it was like, coming of age, during the war years. It is especially important that these experiences not be lost with the passage of time and that younger generations understand the sacrifices previous generations made for the freedom we now enjoy in Canada.

Book Details:

The Girls They Left Behind
by Bernice Thurman Hunter
2005 Fitzhenry & Whiteside

Friday, June 22, 2007

Book Review - From this place: Recollections of the Lives of Women in the 20th Century

This book came about through a project known as "A Grandmother's Legacy". This project was overseen by the Federated Women's Institutes of Ontario. The oldest member of each Women's Institute Branch wrote a brief "recollection" of their life experience in the early 20th century. The book takes its title from a recollection written by Grace Arnold who begins each paragraph with "It was from this place...."
The recollections are fascinating to read and portray a way of life that is all but lost to most women today. The expectations of women then were likely very similiar to those of women today. For most women, it was a life of service mainly to family, community and during the wars, country as well. It was interesting to read stories from areas of Ontario I am familiar with, such as Brantford, St. George, Chatham and even oddly enough, Cobalt, Ontario.
Some of the stories have unusual twists. For example, in a recollection by June Lang, she writes about surviving her parents divorce in 1925 (certainly unusual for that time), a kidnapping by her mother who reclaimed June and her brother from their father, the birth of 6 children, homeschooling her children, the Depression and permanent separation from her husband.
The book contains numerous photographs unrelated to the story-writers but relevant to the period the book covers. The book would have a more personal, more intimate touch if pictures of the women had been placed within their stories.
This is a very enjoyable read and I recommend it to young women especially. It made me think of my music teacher, Truey Baker, born in the early 1900's, who told me stories of what it was like to live in Alberton in the 1920's.

Book Details:
From This Place. Recollections of the Lives of Women in the 20th Century
Janine Roelens-Grant (Editor)
2000 Federated Womend's Institutes of Ontario (FWIO)