Welcome to the TLC Book Tour for Next to Love
Babe, Grace, and Millie have been friends since they met in kindergarten. The story begins in 1941 and World War II has just begun.
Babe is from below Sixth Street, the wrong side of the tracks, but is fierce, determined, and loyal to her friends. She knows that people around the little town in Massachusetts are gossiping about what Claude Huggins, who hails from the respectable side of Sixth Street, could possibly see in her. But Claude “unhinges” her in a way no man ever has before.
Grace is married to Charlie Gooding, the handsome and charismatic son of King Gooding, the wealthy town banker. King was certain of two things: That President Roosevelt would not send Americans boys to fight in Europe again and even if he did, the National Guard would not be mobilized. Unfortunately, both have come to pass and in the morning, Charlie will be shipping out, leaving Grace and their infant daughter Amy behind.
War . . . next to love, has most captured the world’s imagination.~ Eric Partridge (1914)
Millie resides with her husband, Pete Swallow, in his old bedroom at his parents’ home. She awaits the birth of their first child, Jack, an event that Pete will not witness. After shipping out, he writes that, should he not return, he does not want Millie “sitting around pining.” Rather, he encourages her to marry again if something happens to him because she’s “too wonderful a wife, … too swell a girl to go to waste.”
The three women bravely forge on while waiting for the men to return, their lives in a kind of limbo for which they, like the rest of the world, are completely unprepared. They have no idea how much their lives are about to change.
Next to Love is a rare book: One that readers will not want to end. The story of Babe, Grace, and Millie spans more than two decades, from 1941 to 1964, and chronicles the hardships and losses they endure during the War, as well as the myriad ways in which their experiences leave them and their community forever changed.
Author Ellen Feldman explores the struggles of the soldiers who survived to return home and assimilate back into the lives they lived before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 changed them and their world forever. Those who come home are not immediately able to leave the battlefield behind, suffering from survivor’s guilt and post-traumatic stress disorder, conditions that would not be fully understood for decades to come. Flashbacks, nightmares, and the haunting question of why they were spared when so many others perished plagues the men while the women who love them struggle to understand, be patient, and wait for the man they sent off to fight to fully return to them. The physical and emotional toll the War takes on all who lived through it is compassionately explored by Feldman through her characters’ feelings and behavior.
When the War ends, women are expected to give up their jobs to the returning men, but for some women, including Babe, that is not easy. Some women throw themselves into being homemakers, happy to let their husbands return to being the breadwinners. Others resent being relegated to domestic duties, but dare not give voice to their feelings. So they search for activities that will occupy their time and bring meaning to their lives.
After the war, they wrote and promised and prayed. After the war we’ll do this or that or another thing. After the war we’ll be together. After the war we’ll be happy. After the war we’ll be safe. In all their dreaming of after the war, they never dreamed there is no after to war.~ Next to Love
The various ways in which post-War societal changes, including anti-Semitism and the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement, impact the characters are also deftly probed by Feldman, but perhaps the most memorable and touching storylines involve the ways in which the children of the main characters are impacted by the War and its aftermath. One young man seeks answers and desires to know the father he never met, but his mother prefers that he take his stepfather’s name and identify full with him. Dealing with the past, including the man she loved and lost, is too much for her, but her refusal to incorporate her husband’s memory into the new family she has created with her second husband and their children has a profound impact upon her son.
Readers who, like me, are the children of those who served and sacrificed to ensure American freedom will find Next to Love a fascinating and engrossing saga about our parents’ fictional contemporaries. Many of the themes incorporated by Feldman echo and provide new insight into the stories we grew up hearing from our parents and grandparents about the challenging years when America was at war, as well as the difficult transitions that followed. Feldman’s characters are believable and endearing, each flawed in his/her own way and struggling to make sense what has happened to them and their loved ones, often seeking answers to unanswerable questions. Next to Love will frequently move readers to tears, but also pays tender homage to “the greatest generation” without resort to plot contrivances or cloyingly emotional characterizations. Babe, Grace, and Millie are, like the United States, resilient and hopeful. Their stories will resonate with readers long after reading Next to Love.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one copy of Next to Love free of charge from the author in conjunction with the TLC Book Tours review and virtual book tour program. I was not required to write a positive review in exchange for receipt of the book; rather, the opinions expressed in this review are my own. This disclosure complies with 16 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Enter to Win a Copy of Next to Love
One lucky reader, selected at random, will receive a copy of Next to Love, generously provided by the author.
To enter, simply post a comment! Be sure to include your email address (for notification and delivery purposes). The book can only be shipped to a United States or Canadian address (no P.O. box).