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