Monday, December 3, 2012

Home Front Girl: A Diary of Love, Literature, and Growing up in War Time America, by Joan Wehlen Morrison- Review

From Goodreads:
“Hitler speaks to Reichstag tomorrow. We just heard the first casualty lists over the radio. . . . Lots of boys from Michigan and Illinois. Oh my God! . . . Life goes on though. We read our books in the library and eat lunch, bridge, etc. Phy. Sci. and Calculus. Darn Descartes. Reading Walt Whitman now.”

This diary of a smart, astute, and funny teenager provides a fascinating record of what an everyday American girl felt and thought during the Depression and the lead-up to World War II. Young Chicagoan Joan Wehlen describes her daily life growing up in the city and ruminates about the impending war, daily headlines, and major touchstones of the era—FDR’s radio addresses, the Lindbergh kidnapping, Goodbye Mr. Chipsand Citizen Kane, Churchill and Hitler, war work and Red Cross meetings. Included are Joan’s charming doodles of her latest dress or haircut reflective of the era.

I'm a big, big non-fiction fan, which I suppose is poorly represented on this blog, but I did only read historical non-fiction for 3 years straight at one point.  It reads much slower than fiction and would likely make for a very quiet review blog.  Books like Home Front Girl, are actually my absolute favourite types of historical non-fiction.  1st person narrative, especially in diary or letter format is some of the most revealing non-fiction available.  Sure carefully researched non-fiction with intriguing hypotheses on fascinating topics can be riveting, but there's nothing quite as evocative as hearing someones thoughts on historical moments, as it happens, straight from the source.  All you have to do is think about how deeply Anne Frank's diary resonates, how meaningful her thoughts on love and growing up are especially when placed in context of what she was doing.  Often, the most powerful material is the stuff that isn't even directly about the war going on around her, but how she was a young girl still, and in many ways no different than any young girl today.

Home Front Girl is similar in many ways, taken from the view point of a young girl who is the primary age for enlistment by the time her country joins the war, who is well aware that many of the boys she's known and grown up with won't survive.  And yet, she still worries about her latest haircut, or lipstick choice, her grades and if there's something wrong with her since she loses interest in boys by the time she's gotten them interested in her.

Sprinkled in are profound thoughts on the war, Churchill, her parents and the beauty of taking each day as it comes.  Home Front Girl is both a great way to interest younger audiences to the American late entry into WW2, and to remind older audiences all the things we have to be grateful for in our time and place in life.  Joan's thoughts on her life and her time, from the relaxed view point of what you would tell your diary, was a delightful change of pace for me.  It's the words of a strong young woman, who is still silly enough to worry about every slight exchange with a boy, and it was thoughtful, sometimes amusing and an intriguing window into a time period that's not often highlighted from an American standpoint.

For fans of the Diary of Anne Frank, this would make an intriguing counterpoint, but it would also make a refreshing addition to any home library.  A great book to share, make sure to consider it on your gift giving list this season.

Home Front Girl: A Diary of Love, Literature, and Growing up in War Time America, by Joan Wehlen Morrison
Published by, Chicago Review Press, November 1st, 2012
My copy kindly provided by the publisher

4 comments:

  1. All you have to do is think about how deeply Anne Frank's diary resonates, how meaningful her thoughts on love and growing up are especially when placed in context of what she was doing. Often, the most powerful material is the stuff that isn't even directly about the war going on around her, but how she was a young girl still, and in many ways no different than any young girl today. Amarres de Amor

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