When I began this book, I thought, "Oh, no, not more historical fiction! Oh, no, not another novel in verse!" I had found myself at a point of disinterest with the latter and disgust with the former.
I feel much better now.
This beautiful book tells the story of two closely bonded neighboring families who are torn apart by the horrors of World War I and the perceived conflict between patriotism and the women's suffrage movement. You won't find teen angst here, no whining, no overblown romance. Instead, here is the story of realistic people with real problems, real grief with no easy answers, and the courage to face these problems.
As poetry, the book works fairly well. Each of the three protagonists has a specific poetic format that provides both voice to the character and visual cue to the reader. We have wordy, acerbic Muriel, a new high school graduate who cannot make peace with war or discrimination against women. There's her little brother, broad, confident Ollie, who lies to enlist in the army and comes back wounded and deeply traumatized. Finally, there is quiet but strong Emma, who loses her older brother to the war and must learn how to go on without him and how to cope with her mother's grief. My complaint of late has been that historical fiction authors just use their characters to act out a time period, which makes their books read like those colored boxes history textbooks use to add depth to the narrative. But here is a character-driven story of growth and change, loss and love, told in beautiful poetry that doesn't read like prose with a rhythm. Toward the end of the book, some of the poetic aspect is lost as more plot points unfold, but by then the story is so engrossing that the reader isn't going to care.
I especially appreciated the contrast between Muriel and more traditional Emma. Muriel is a wonderful, brilliant girl on her way to women's rights activism, but Emma points out that it takes great strength to be a traditional woman, too, with all the work it entailed at this time period. I'm glad Frost gave both sides of the coin a voice. I also loved her scenes of the picket line for women's voting rights, the indignities and physical assault these women faced bravely on their way to the vote.
All in all, I highly recommend this unassumingly-titled tale.
Recommend to: Age 14+, historical fiction fans,