Friday, March 25, 2011

Review: Letters From Home by Kristina McMorris

In this world of electronic communications, our correspondence with each other is very often fleeting, off the cuff, and once we hit the send button, despite archiving, generally lost to others. Before the advent of e-mail, people took the time to write letters, thoughtful and considered and very often saved and cherished. Kristina McMorris found just such a bundle of letters between her grandparents during WWII and her discovery planted the seed that would become her first novel.

Opening in the summer of 1944, this novel is a WWII-era Cyrano de Bergerac tale. Betty, Julia, and Liz are best friends and roommates. So when Betty has a gig singing at a USO dance, both Julia and Liz go to support her. Julia is engaged to Christian, who is fighting the war in the Navy and Liz is seriously dating Dalton, who is busy running his father's Senate campaign. Somehow Liz ends up meeting and dancing with Morgan McClain, who is on the eve of shipping out with his cut-up younger brother Charlie. They each feel an immediate connection but after Liz spies Morgan dancing with Betty later in the evening, she disappears home. What Liz doesn't know is that Betty has promised to write Morgan overseas and now she needs Liz's help with the first letter. Julia receives loving and wonderful letters from Christian and Betty decides that writing to Morgan is the way for her to receive letters like this too. But she isn't a writer like Liz and she essentially snookers Liz into the correspondence on her behalf.

But circumstances during wartime change rapidly, even on the homefront and soon Betty, searching for a sense of purpose, has enlisted as a WAC herself and been shipped out to New Guinea missing the arrival of Morgan's first reply. Liz tells herself that she can't quit writing to Morgan when he's defending the country and so she continues to write to him as Betty and feeling a growing emotion, perhaps even love, through their exchange even while she and Dalton get engaged. Interspersed with Liz's story and growing quandry are Morgan's, Julia's, and Betty's stories. Morgan's wartime experiences with his brother Charlie and the other guys in their unit tell of interminable waiting, unimaginable horror, and heartbreaking grief. Betty's story shows yet another side to the war, that of the women and nurses out in the field hospitals enduring terrible conditions and still offering comfort as best they can. Julia's story is perhaps is the most conventional, the sweetheart left at home, who can only hope, as she declines a fantastic professional opportunity and plans her wedding, that her love will come home to her safely.

All of the plot lines weave together nicely, rounding out the picture of life during the war from many different perspectives. Liz and Morgan's correspondence takes center stage as it not only enlarges their characters and advances the plot but it is also the catalyst for change and introspection that each of their characters would not have had the courage to undertake without the truth of the letters. Each of the three young women are delightfully different and well-constructed characters, as is Morgan. Dalton and Christian remain cyphers, despite their presence in the narrative, Dalton's presence more frequent than Christian's. Each of the characters is irretrievably changed by the end of the book, true not only because only because of their wartime experiences but because of the growth of their hearts over this same period.

Alternating the focus on different characters in succeeding chapters helped to keep the narrative tension even and all the plots unspooling at about the same pace. The letters between Liz and Morgan were lovely, filled with yearning, for a simpler, more innocent time and for the future. There were occasional moments of clunkiness in the writing ("No doubt, her father would be far from delighted if he knew what she was considering. As would her mother, if she were around to intone her disapproval.") but generally the simple, relaxed tone made for easy and pleasing reading. A lovely update on the Cyrano story, bookclub members and other readers who favor historical fiction will find this an enjoyable selection.

For more information about Kristina McMorris and the book, b sure to check out her web page.

Thanks to the author and Dorothy at Pump Up Your Book Book Tours for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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