Title: Lovely War
Author: Julie Berry
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Release Date: March 5th 2019 from Viking Books for Young Readers
Format: Physical copy provided by the publisher
Goodreads Synopsis: It’s 1917, and World War I is at its zenith when Hazel and James first catch sight of each other at a London party. She’s a shy and talented pianist; he’s a newly minted soldier with dreams of becoming an architect. When they fall in love, it’s immediate and deep—and cut short when James is shipped off to the killing fields.
Aubrey Edwards is also headed toward the trenches. A gifted musician who’s played Carnegie Hall, he’s a member of the 15th New York Infantry, an all-African-American regiment being sent to Europe to help end the Great War. Love is the last thing on his mind. But that’s before he meets Colette Fournier, a Belgian chanteuse who’s already survived unspeakable tragedy at the hands of the Germans.
Thirty years after these four lovers’ fates collide, the Greek goddess Aphrodite tells their stories to her husband, Hephaestus, and her lover, Ares, in a luxe Manhattan hotel room at the height of World War II. She seeks to answer the age-old question: Why are Love and War eternally drawn to one another? But her quest for a conclusion that will satisfy her jealous husband uncovers a multi-threaded tale of prejudice, trauma, and music and reveals that War is no match for the power of Love.
I am so happy to say that this is a blog tour with Penguin Teen to celebrate this upcoming YA historical fiction novel. As soon as I heard about this novel last year, I was over the moon. I read Julie Berry’s previous novel The Passion of Dolssa and immediately fell in love with her careful and poignant historical research, as well as her eloquent yet writing style that make you feel everything. This book was no exception and I loved reading it. If you love novels by authors like Cat Winters and even just if you love the genre, this is a novel not to be missed. I’ll list my top favorite aspects of the novel.
My first favorite thing about this book were the voices of the characters, from our four couples in love down to the Greek gods themselves. Aphrodite had the strongest voice, since she is the one who spins the tale, with showing both pride, hesitation and also loneliness and worry. You know how she takes pride in her work and even the smallest details that make her pride shine through even more. Ares, the god of War, is one who loves bloodshed and always brings the war chapters with brutal honesty. Apollo follows one of the couples and while he is grounded, his voice can be sly and fun. Hades, another god who gets a POV, has chapters that made me tearing up with their stark portrayal of what the characters went through. All of them surprise the reader with their own thoughts on the war and they are affected by the tale.
“I envy the mortals. It’s because they’re so weak and damaged that they can love.” (pg. 13)
First, we have James and Hazel, our first couple that we follow right at the cusp of the Great War. Hazel is young girl who plays the piano and meets James at a church dance. After they talk and dance together, they are clearly smitten and try their best to spend time before James goes off to war. Their voices felt so authentic to the time period, with being shy about love, unsure of what to say, afraid of seeing the other again and learning about one another through letters. Their romance reminds me of honest young love that is a wonder to watch. We all have an instant connection with someone and while we’re surprised at this ourselves, we roll with it and see what happens. Both of these young people are afraid if one will even survive this war and while they do have their mistakes and hesitations of their future, they sure try their best. The determination to survive, in more ways than one, is a way this book shows the unbreakable bond of love.
“Against the teeming backdrop of the vast station, she shone like an angel. Her cheeks were flushed, her face anxious, adorable, and dear as she watched for him to appear.”
“Even before Hazel dared to smile, her face lit up, and she took a step toward him. James knew that, outrage or no, he was not getting back on that train. Ever, if he could help it.” (pg. 246 & 247)
Our other couple are Colette, a Belgian girl working with the YMCA in France and Aubrey Edwards, an African-American musician who travels both as a colored soldier and musician with this troupe to France. Both show interest with each other, given both of their musical abilities and both wonder about their feelings. Colette is a girl who suffered from the horrible Rape of Belgium and often keeps up her walls, despite the nightmares she still has. But Aubrey gets through to her and their romance is tender and honest. Both have their own hardships to face, both in the present and in the past. I loved seeing their dynamics together and how they stick up for one another in various situations. Their romance isn’t quite as prominent as Hazel and James, but their tenderness love of dreams and music made my heart swell with joy reading about their story.
“Colette’s story woke Aubrey’s heart. Without one ounce of push from me, he opened his arms to her, and she enfolded herself in his embrace. His tears fell into her hair. He ached to comfort her, but what could he say? “I’m here,” he told her. “I’ve got you.” He did have her. For the first time in years, Colette did not feel alone.” (pg. 202)
My second favorite thing was, of course, Julie Berry’s fantastic writing style. I am always looking for polished and sweeping writing in YA that captivates my feelings and attention. Her words do that, even in simple one liners that dig deep into war and tragedy. I have always been fascinated by the history of WWI and I even studied some of the poetry from soldiers that died in action. Some of the writings you can find of the time are truly haunting even a century later. Just reading about the snipers, trenches and prejudice that seeped through the war is terribly sad and also a vision of what truly occurred. The YA author Jennifer Donnelly said this of Julie Berry: “Julie Berry writes the past as if she lived it.” I couldn’t agree more. I was transported every time I opened the book. Here are some quotes from the copy provided by the publisher that I loved:
“The first casualty of war is the truth.” (pg.298)
“I was jealous of how he watched Hazel, drinking in her music like water and tasting how she dissolved herself in it like a sugar cube.” (pg. 19)
“You may as me, as others have done before, whether it was kindness or cruelty to allow them to meet, so soon before his departure, with so little time to discover each other. Whether the pangs of loss do not invalidate the bliss of love. Especially where war is concerned, and Death runs rampant with his bloody scythe. You may say that it was wicked of me to allow James to find Hazel, and Hazel, James, if three days were all they would love. I do not all it cruelty. I do not apologize.” (pg. 84)
“He dangled in time. The sounds of sleeping soldiers all around him pulled him back to earth like a tether, while the horrid vertigo of wrenching from dreaming to consciousness made his head spin.” (pg. 225)
“I like to keep a little bit of nervousness simmering. It keeps mortals alert at crucial moments. Sensitive to every detail. It imprints lasting memories. These moments belong to forever.” (pg. 244)
The themes of war, prejudice, love and the human spirit is what makes this novel shine so much. I have been fascinated by World War I history since learning about it in school. It was the first time the world was flung into chaos, along with new and terrifying technology that made people afraid to see another day. This book shows only a fraction of the horrors that were surely witnessed by those men who fought and died. Hundreds of thousands never made it home or have never been found or identified. I felt in every page the pain, fear, dirt, blood and sweat that the characters went through. I especially found James’s consequences during the war the most stark and upfront with what he gets involved with in the war. The after effects were also explored of how these men felt after trying to come home and adjust to normal life. Also, the prejudice that the colored soldiers faced when they were sent off to war was awful to read about. I didn’t know much about the colored soldiers who fought and even the prejudice within their own army. I also didn’t know how women got involved to help during the war and all of this was enlightening and masterfully shown. The historical notes at the end are especially wonderful to show more insight.
- Only about 42,000 black American soldiers fought in the war out of the 400,000 that served. The rest had other occupations like: dock workers, rail road and road builders, gravediggers and worked in the branch of SOS (Service of Supply). They suffered humiliation, racism, minimal food, clothing and housing. But still many saw the war as an opportunity.
- The slanderous accusations of rape against white women were utterly false. To their credit, when the higher French military command learned of the memo containing messages like this, they ordered that it be gathered and burned. The French Army lavishly decorated the black American servicemen, in particular the 369th.
- With all the men going off to war, women finally had lots of occupations to fill. They drove trucks, became nurses, operating trains, performed surgery and many other ways. Upper class women organized relief for the Belgian refugees, widows/orphans and the wounded. The Women’s Land Army was organized to grow the urgently needed food across the countrysides.
- Countless numbers of women left their domestic home lives and decent paying jobs by working in factories that made material like artillery shells.
- WWI was the first war to use submarines and aerial surveillance, as well as the massive tanks (project directed by Churchill himself) and heavy artillery guns
- The unseen injuries were from the shell shock and other traumas of war. It wasn’t until late in the war that medicine was discovering the damage to the brain and it took a long time for the trench warfare to be seen as a serious problem, when it was only looked at as “cowardice” or “weakness” before. Hospitals created sections for soldiers to receive comfort, medicine and places were the men could start to rehabilitate.
- So many never returned home from the war, whether they were missing or simply never returned. All paid a price once they returned home, from being a different person to racial hatred still brewing and the many physical affects that would stay with them forever.
Overall: This book is one of the best reads of the year for me so far! I was taken back to that time, just over 100 years ago now, to a place of trenches, young love and fear for your life. The voices of the Greek Gods were fascinating and felt like that’s how they would talk. While it ends slightly too happy for me, I will be recommending this book and remembering this book for a long time. This book shows that despite the horrors of war, there are things worth living for. Julie Berry continues to be an author that amazes me with her work 🙂
Rating: .5 stars
A big thank you to Penguin Teen for this blog tour in celebration of Lovely War and letting me be apart of it!