World War II wreaked havoc on men’s and women’s lives, changing them in ways they never could have anticipated. Next to Love takes us on a journey through the war and the following twenty years of aftermath, as characters learn to live with themselves and try and regain who they once were. The novel follows three women, Babe, Grace, and Millie, who were best friends and whose husbands and boyfriends went to serve in the war. Feldman examines the problems women on the home front faced and the devastation of war away from the battlefields – and the way it never quite lets go of its victims.
I knew I was going to like this book, but I never expected it to love it as much as I actually did. I read it in what felt like a flash, completely enthralled by the stories of these three women and the struggles they have to endure. While they mainly saw themselves as getting on with it, they were really witnessing a pivotal period for women and for the family; their growing strength speaks to the stronger women’s movement that was approaching.
Feldman doesn’t skimp on difficult subjects. Babe’s husband, for example, returns from war changed in ways Babe isn’t sure she liked. We hear about the joyful reunion often; what about the one that is fraught with anxiety? The husband that can’t sleep and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder? That night before your husband goes to war and you might never see him again? Each woman deals with difficult issues directly related to the war, and then related to moving forward with lives that are irrevocably changed.
The world changes, too. Characters in the book are determined to fight racism. They witness huge changes in status as the American world fundamentally shifts around them. It’s the story of a generation, told through characters that really steal your heart and make you wish that you could keep them with you forever. Babe was my favorite character by far; she just seemed the strongest, the most capable of handling everything that got thrown at her. And there is a lot for her to handle. That isn’t to say I didn’t like the other women; I certainly did and I was invested in their stories, too.
A gorgeous novel, I’d recommend Next to Love to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, especially that set around World War II with amazing, strong women at its heart. This is an excellent book and I am so glad I read it.
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