It’s funny. Bombs drop from the sky every day, chaos and mayhem spread over the globe, but we’re more afraid of the mines buried deep in our hearts, the ones we hope to never give cause to explode.
(from I’ll Be Seeing You)
I’ll Be Seeing You is a touching book about the power of friendship — and another one sure to make my Best of 2013 list. Set during World War II, it is a novel comprised of letters between two pen pals who forge an unlikely but powerful bond. Gloria (Glory) Whitehall is a 23-year-old mother from Rockport, Massachusetts, struggling to rein in her wild toddler son and hold things together while her husband, Robert, is off at war. Marguerite (Rita) Vincenzo is a 40-year-old, self-proclaimed “Garden Witch” in Iowa City, Iowa, who is adjusting to life alone, as both her husband, Sal, and her 18-year-old son, Toby, are off fighting for their country. These women are nearly two decades apart in age and come from completely different worlds, but they understand each other like no one else does. They both know loneliness and fear since their men have gone off to war and spend much of their time waiting to hear from them, to know they are still okay.
Glory and Rita share recipes and gardening tips, offer each other advice, tell stories about their families and neighbors, and eventually bare their souls. While Glory deals with her complicated feelings for her childhood friend, Levi (who is unable to serve and instead spends nearly every moment of his time taking care of Glory and the kids), and grows less timid as she becomes involved in the women’s rights movement, Rita must navigate difficult relationships with Mrs. K, her busybody German neighbor, and Roylene, the seemingly dim daughter of an abusive tavern owner who Rita learns, much to her dismay, is Toby’s girlfriend. Both women have a lot of soul searching and growing up to do, and over a period of two years, they share their joys and their tragedies and become each other’s rock — despite living on opposite sides of the country and communicating only through these letters.
I absolutely loved this book, and its unique structure makes it the best epistolary novel I’ve read so far. Hayes, writing as Glory, and Nyhan, writing as Rita, wrote the book via e-mail, trading several letters in character before working out the plot and never actually meeting one another in person. This ensures two separate and distinct voices. The writing is heartfelt and simply beautiful; obviously there is more narrative and dialogue than one would expect in a letter, but the words just flowed and made me feel like I had stumbled upon a treasure trove of wartime correspondence.
By the time I finished the book (wiping away tears, of course), Rita and Glory felt real to me, like old friends, and I realized I’d fallen in love with them along the way. Hayes and Nyhan let readers into their characters’ lives and hearts, displaying both their strengths and their flaws and showing how they change as the war — and the waiting — drags on. A few of the minor characters speak for themselves through letters, but even those that don’t become known and loved through Hayes’ and Nyhan’s expert storytelling.
I’ll Be Seeing You is a book that transports readers back to the 1940s, bringing the wartime era to life with ration recipes and other little details and making me pine for a time long past when people wrote letters and waited in anxious anticipation for a response. It’s a novel that celebrates female friendships and community and shows that a strong relationship built on similar experiences can carry people through the worst of times. The epistolary format makes I’ll Be Seeing You a quick read and perfect for summer, and despite the wartime theme, there’s enough hope and happiness to keep it from being too heavy. I could go on and on about how I couldn’t put this book down and how I wanted it never to end, but it’s probably a good idea for me to stop now so that you can go and get your hands on a copy and see for yourself!
Disclosure: I received I’ll Be Seeing You from Harlequin MIRA for review.
© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.