Next to Love by Ellen Feldman
ARC, Hardcover, 304 pages
Spiegel & Grau
July 26, 2011
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Received for Review as part of the Amazon Vine Program
“Set in a small town in Massachusetts, Next to Love 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.
Beautifully crafted and unforgettable, Next to Love depicts the enduring power of love and friendship, and illuminates a transformational moment in American history.”
This novel covers a lot of history and emotion within the short 300+ pages – I would recommend a box of tissues handy when reading it. The novel covers a period just before the men are sent off to the European theatre of World War II, follows the women’s life on the new home-front while the men are away, and then shows them all dealing with what fate had dealt them following the end of the war. The experiences of these women, Millie, Babe, and Grace, cover a pretty decent range of life experiences and outcomes from the war. We see everything from lost friends and family members, the effects of PTSD [pretty much unknown of at the time], evolution of the role of women, and the new generation of their children. The book was well rounded in its coverage of the home-front and I applaud this effort as many books sent in and around World War II either ignore the home-front or spend very little time on it. I also appreciated that the author addressed issues that African Americans and Jews faced in the military and on the home-front. I had considered the treatment of African Americans before but had not really considered the impact on those of Jewish descent – even considering that they were sometimes fighting against those who had carried out some terrible atrocities against Jews.
One of my favorite parts of this book was the section of letters sent between the women and their men overseas. It was interesting to see what types of things they would tell each other and the things that they would omit – women trying to keep the men’s spirit up and the men trying to take some of the fear away from their women.
There was however a rather big issue I had with this book and that was with the layout. It would alternate between sections focusing on each woman, Babe, Grace, and Millie, and would then break these sections up by date. That I was ok with, and had the book proceeded in continuous chronological order that would have been fine. However it became confusing when each time I would start a section about one of the other women we would go back over the same period of time that I had just read about from one of the other’s perspective. I understand the direction that the author was going – to show the same events through the different perspectives, however I found it to be more confusion than beneficial.
As a side note: While I don’t really like any of the cover versions that this book has had, I’m glad they changed it from the cover on the ARC. The envelope on the cover I’m assuming was supposed to represent a letter sent between the home-front and battlefield during the war (WWII), however the envelope had a 1938 cancel stamp date on it. The events in the book didn’t take place until the 1940’s. This anachronism really bothered me throughout the reading of the book – so very glad they changed it for publication.
Author Ellen Feldman also has written Scottsboro, The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank, and Lucy. You can visit Feldman’s website for additional information about the book. If you would like to preview the story before reading it, why not try out this excerpt of the book?
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