The Beauty Shop by Suzy Henderson
e-Book, 313 pages
November 28, 2016
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Personal purchase
England, 1942. After three years of WWII, Britain is showing the scars. But in this darkest of days, three lives intertwine, changing their destinies and those of many more.
Dr Archibald McIndoe, a New Zealand plastic surgeon with unorthodox methods, is on a mission to treat and rehabilitate badly burned airmen – their bodies and souls. With the camaraderie and support of the Guinea Pig Club, his boys battle to overcome disfigurement, pain, and prejudice to learn to live again.
John ‘Mac’ Mackenzie of the US Air Force is aware of the odds. He has one chance in five of surviving the war. Flying bombing missions through hell and back, he’s fighting more than the Luftwaffe. Fear and doubt stalk him on the ground and in the air, and he’s torn between his duty and his conscience.
Shy, decent and sensible Stella Charlton’s future seems certain until war breaks out. As a new recruit to the WAAF, she meets an American pilot on New Year’s Eve. After just one dance, she falls head over heels for the handsome airman. But when he survives a crash, she realises her own battle has only just begun.
Based on a true story, "The Beauty Shop" is a moving tale of love, compassion, and determination against a backdrop of wartime tragedy.
The first place that you start with any book is the experience a reader has with the cover of the book, and the cover of this one is gorgeous…but deceiving. As is the title. And I think these items are extremely important to discuss upfront as it might change your mind about deciding to read the book. The book cover and the title appears to allude to this being a typical women’s fiction novel, possibly set in a gossipy beauty shop. But that couldn’t be further from the truth! The Beauty Shop is a war novel that focuses of three main points-of-view: Mac, an American Air Force pilot; Stella, a member of the WAAF; and Dr. McIndoe, a renowned plastic surgeon. And the titular Beauty Shop isn’t a place ladies go to get their hair done, it is actually a surgical ward where those who have endured the worst of burn and crush injuries in the war effort go to be put back together. A VERY different concept given the context!
This novel has a little bit of everything. It is part a romance novel, as Stella is pulled between two men and faces the trials and tribulations of love during wartime. I loved getting to see the relationship with Stella and Mac grow, but could also understand her continued relationship with Alex. It was complex and fulfilling. It is also part war novel set on the home front. Stella and her friend work in the WAAF and we get a glimpse of their lives. We also see how men would let off steam and how they lived on the base in between missions. We experience what it was like for men who were terribly injured and disfigured during crash landings and the hope that Dr. McIndoe was able to bring to them with the ministrations he provided in his “beauty shop”. It is also a novel of the battlefield – in the air! There are some mean dogfights and bombing missions that are featured here and these were some of the scenes that I couldn’t wait for. They were full of tension, and fear, and drama. I was thrilled with how the author was able to juggle these three elements and create a cohesive story that feels like a full wartime experience.
I didn’t want to put this book down! I awaited the bombing mission scenes because they were full of tension, but I was always unsure of if they would be coming back home. This was extremely appropriate because I’m sure that is how many of those men felt while actually on those missions. The scenes set in the hospital ward were also fascinating because of all the innovative medicine that Dr. McIndoe was practicing (we get an in-depth look at how a nose was re-crafted and the many hardships that could come along with it). While it isn’t grossly detailed, it is enough for you to get the picture. I felt for the men who were experiencing these hardships and thought the things that Dr. McIndoe was doing at that time with regard to the social experience of those who were disfigured was fascinating and ahead of its time. If any of the characters grated at me it would have to be Stella. While I enjoyed her for the most part, some of her decision-making process made me frustrated, even if I can understand her reasons.
Overall, this was a stellar read and I am so glad that I was encouraged to read it by a friend. My main goal here is to make sure this book doesn’t get overlooked because of a title that while technically perfect, upon initial glance provides a very different expected experience than that which it truly offers.
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