We’ve all read stories and seen movies about the horrors faced by soldiers during World War II. But what was it like for the women left behind?
In Home Front Girls (Park Row Books), Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan relay in an epistolary format the drama endured by two American women and their families living hundreds of miles apart during World War II.
In January 1943, twenty-three-year-old Glory Whitehall from Rockport, Massachusetts, picks a name from a hat at a 4-H meeting. The purpose is to select another lady in the “same situation”—taking care of the home front while their men are away—to write if they feel lonesome or desperate. Glory chooses the last name left—Rita Vincenzo, AKA the Garden Witch—a woman almost twenty years older than she who lives in Iowa City, Iowa.
Their lives couldn’t be more different.
Glory is from old New England money, with a two-year-old boy, Robbie, and another baby on the way, her marriage new and shiny. After being pampered her entire life, she turns their beach vacation house into their permanent home, taking care of everything herself instead of hiring servants, with the help of her childhood friend Levi. Overwhelmed with caring for a family without her husband, she could use a friend.
Rita is middle class, of German heritage but married into an Italian family. Her husband Sal was too old to fight so he joined the war as a medic, and her rosy-cheeked eighteen-year-old son, Toby, signed up as well. Her house is now empty. She’s lived in Iowa City for ten years and only has one other woman she can call her friend, so she knows about being lonely and not fitting in.
Not only do the women share their lives with each other to help deal with their worry and loneliness, but they understand each other’s paralyzing fear of the telegram. As Rita describes her dread, “When I’m not working, I sit in the cold on the front porch, watching for that smooth-cheeked, towheaded delivery boy, the angel of death.”
Glory believes Rita is a “Soul Sister,” someone she’s known through many lives, and she values the relationship she’s forged with not only Rita, but now other women in her town. “I love being a woman. A woman among amazing women. Women who understand just how much we need one another.”
Rita describes the priceless comfort that her relationship with Glory brings. “Her capable hands called to me. They held the pen that kept my soul afloat when I wanted to down it in a bathtub full of grief, and still they reached, their strength holding me up yet again.”
Chapters alternate between letters from Glory and those from Rita. Rita shares her experience and knowledge of marriage and raising children with new mom Glory, and Glory supports Rita through unexpected upheavals in her world and talks her through the days of depression and grief. Highlighting the flavor of the American family during the war, the book is interspersed with “war recipes” created to use ingredients still available during a period of deprivation.
The letters between Rita and Glory paint a vivid picture of those fighting the war on the home front and what they are fighting for. Rita writes about a local German POW camp at which she volunteers: “This is America. The generosity of spirit, the understanding of human dignity, the concept of allowing our enemies to partake in the bounty of our land because… it’s the right thing to do.”
Author Loretta Nyhan sums up the message she and Suzanne Hayes wish for their audience after reading Home Front Girls: “Making sense of loss is not a process best done alone. My wish for everyone who reads this book is that when it’s your time to reach a hand out, there is a loving friend to grasp it.”
This narrative is a vivid and enlightening snapshot of those left behind to take care of America while WWII raged on. If you enjoyed Juliet Ashton’s letters in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, you will fall in love with those between Rita and Glory, the Home Front Girls.
Home Front Girls goes on sale September 3.
About the Authors
Suzanne is the internationally bestselling author of The Witch of Little Italy, The Witch of Belladonna Bay, The Witch of Bourbon Street, and The Witch House of Persimmon Point. She is the co-author of I’ll Be Seeing You and Empire Girls. Her novels have been translated into five different languages and have earned stars from Kirkus and Booklist. She lives in a haunted farmhouse by the ocean with her husband and three darling witches and is currently hard at work on her next novel.
Loretta was a reader before she was a writer, devouring everything she could get her hands on. Later, her obsession with reading evolved into an absolute need to write. After college, she wrote for national trade magazines, taught writing to college freshmen, and eventually found the guts to try fiction. I’ll Be Seeing You, her novel co-written with Suzanne Hayes, debuted in 2013. Their second collaboration, Empire Girls, released in 2014. Her solo work includes The Witch Collector, Parts I & II, paranormal thrillers for HarperTeen. When she’s not writing, Loretta is knitting, baking and doing all kinds of things her high school self would have found hilarious.