Lt. Philomeia Blake is among the first nurses trained to train for air evacuation. Many people, including some top army officials, believed women had no place flying into combat areas, even if it was to load wounded soldiers and to provide emergency care until they landed at bases with hospitals. With her father a prisoner of the Japanese, Philomeia is alone in the world and she feels helping her country is her calling. Nursing is a natural skill for her, but in training it quickly becomes apparent that her strong independence is not going to be a positive attribute. In fact, her superiors threaten to wash her out of the program if she cannot bond with the other women.
Raised in the Philipines by her father, Mellie's (her father's nickname for Philomeia) has always felt out of place, no matter what her surroundings. This new world of bunkmates, shared "girly" secrets, and such is just too foreign. When an officer promotes the idea of writing anonymously to soldiers oversea, Mellie reluctantly agrees, mainly to show that she can be part of the group. While most letter pairings quickly end, Mellie's correspondence with a young engineerning platoon leader blossoms. Both writers need someone to confide their concerns and fears in. Each becomes the support that the other needs, while continuing their pledge to write anonymously. Shortly after landing in Africa, Mellie has a chance meeting with a young engineer. A casual remark confirms to her that Tom MacGilliver is her penpal. While her love painfully grows, she will not reveal her identity.
I have mixed reactions about this story. There is an interesting theme of adults battling the self-imposed limits they bring from their troubled childhoods, and I found that perspective interesting. I liked that their love grew through letters, partly because my husband and I corresponded heavily during our courtship. We were 80 miles apart, and rather than calling, most days we wrote. Much of life and our beliefs was covered in those letters! This novel is part of a to-be continued World War II series, and although I may not read all the books in it, I want to read the one which will follow Kay Johnson (set to be published in 2014)
Not much about her is revealed in this novel, but readers get the sense that her playgirl attitude is hiding a deeper pain.
What prevents me from giving this book an all star review is Tom's story. I didn't feel it was as believably developed as Mellie's. Perhaps I feel that way because it is a darker, more emotionally scarring story or maybe it's because it was a "male" story, but really I think it was just the length. At 330 pages, the novel dragged through the much of the final 100 pages. Then right at the end, Sundin's story telling skills shone again.
So in the end, I give the book 4 stars for the setting and for these unlikely soulmates, 4 stars for developing characters that will shine in future books, but 3 stars for the prolonged story.
Check out Sarah Sundin's website to learn more about her life and her other books.