It’s 1917 and the world has been at war for more than three years. For Simone Spencer, high society in New York City these days gives her little pleasure and no fulfillment. Her brother has left for the army and she, too, wishes to help the war effort and add some meaning to her life. So she volunteers to be a Hello Girl in France as her family is French and she can communicate in French to the Allies. Little does she know how much her life will change on the Western Front, for better or worse.
I read this book for my own personal pleasure and was not required to write a review. All comments and opinions are entirely my own.
This book is part of the Dear America series, a middle grade historical fiction series near and dear to my heart. I hope to review many Dear Americas in the future, but I’m excited that my first one happens to be one of my all-time favorites!
When Christmas Comes Again by Beth Seidel Levine is one of the few (if not the only) Dear America about a seventeen-year-old girl. Most of the Dear America heroines are between twelve and fourteen years old, so you can imagine my excitement when I was finally the exact same age as the main character. Therefore, Simone’s questions about her future and her meaning in life are very relatable as I asked myself similar questions at that age. Also, Simone’s family is French and as I am French-Canadian, I loved the bits of French language and references throughout the diary.
I’ll admit I might be a little biased as World War I is my favorite time period and this book happens to take place then, but ultimately, a good story is a good story. Simone, in wanting to make a difference, ends up signing on for a job that is more than she bargained for. Being a Hello Girl is not easy, but involves high-stress situations where her communications with Allied soldiers not only have to be coded, but she must help them reach their goals in calling, if she can. Simone wonders if she’s strong enough, but she doesn’t have time to decide whether she is or not because they need her—now. Sometimes it’s not about having strength before a situation arises, but getting through the situation which then gives you strength. This story is rich in history and I loved learning about another side of World War I we don’t often hear about.
There is romance, there is friendship, there is loneliness and there is heartache. Life lived during a war—any war—is often cruel and unfair. And questions are often left unanswered. But Simone pushes through it and when she returns home, she is made different by her experiences. She can never return to the sweet, innocent New York gal she once was, but she would never go back. One of my favorite quotes from the book perfectly reflects this thought:
“The thing is, if in your life, you never got any bad news, never got weary, never got the wind knocked out of you, well, there would be nothing left in this world to move you. And there would be no reason at all to well up in a teary smile and hold on tight to everything you love. I know now that that’s the whole point. That’s the whole point to everything.”
If that didn’t just give you chills, there’s nothing more I can do.
I give When Christmas Comes Again 5 out of 5 stars. It’s geared toward middle grade readers, but just as entertaining and educational for high schoolers and beyond. While the story does not entirely center around Christmas time, it begins and ends with Christmas. Because Christmas marks a time for families to be together—happy, content and at peace. There was no peace for the Spencer family in 1917 and although World War I had changed them greatly, they had peace in Christmas of 1918. This demonstrates that while we may not have peace now, we can look forward to the peace to come.