“None of them were prepared for what the war front gave them.”
Review by Rayleigh Setser
A group of young women from Smith College risk their lives in France at the height of World War I in this sweeping novel based on a true story—a skillful blend of Call the Midwife and The Alice Network—from New York Times bestselling author Lauren Willig.
A scholarship girl from Brooklyn, Kate Moran thought she found a place among Smith’s Mayflower descendants, only to have her illusions dashed the summer after graduation. When charismatic alumna Betsy Rutherford delivers a rousing speech at the Smith College Club in April of 1917, looking for volunteers to help French civilians decimated by the German war machine, Kate is too busy earning her living to even think of taking up the call. But when her former best friend Emmeline Van Alden reaches out and begs her to take the place of a girl who had to drop out, Kate reluctantly agrees to join the new Smith College Relief Unit.
Four months later, Kate and seventeen other Smithies, including two trailblazing female doctors, set sail for France. The volunteers are armed with money, supplies, and good intentions—all of which immediately go astray. The chateau that was to be their headquarters is a half-burnt ruin. The villagers they meet are in desperate straits: women and children huddling in damp cellars, their crops destroyed and their wells poisoned.
Despite constant shelling from the Germans, French bureaucracy, and the threat of being ousted by the British army, the Smith volunteers bring welcome aid—and hope—to the region. But can they survive their own differences? As they cope with the hardships and terrors of the war, Kate and her colleagues find themselves navigating old rivalries and new betrayals which threaten the very existence of the Unit.
With the Germans threatening to break through the lines, can the Smith Unit pull together and be truly a band of sisters?
"'You have kindness to spare?' 'Last I checked, kindness isn't rationed.'" -Emmy This group of college ladies thrust into the middle of WWI volunteer to go to France as a relief unit; each girl going for her own reasons. Some saw it as a justifiable excuse to shop in Paris, some to escape the harsh realities of home life, some to broaden their social accomplishments, and some to genuinely help those in need. But none of them were prepared for what the war front gave them. I generally read a lot of WWII fiction, but WWI fiction, for some reason, is more difficult to find. This story, inspired by the real-life Smith College women who journeyed to France, is a moving story. There are places where you laugh at the women and their naivety and effort to keep their spirits up, and there are moments where you cry with them. While I really have no complaints about this storyline or the characters, the story moved incredibly slow for me. I felt like it took them ages to finally get to the frontline and there was so much detail in little things that I would read for hours and they'd hardly get anywhere. It's definitely a book that is focused more on the women than progressing the storyline. Overall, though, it's a moving book and I enjoyed reading about Kate, Emmy, and the other women of Smith College.
Action & Gore:
5. Action present (frequent and mildly descriptive battle sequences or injuries).
Romance & Spice:
2. Mild content (holding hands and mild kissing).
Cursing & Vulgarity:
1. Infrequent substitute cursing (less than 10 "craps" etc. and/or book specific curse words).
Other Trigger Warnings:
Details of the injuries soldiers and nurses have endured. Mentions of sexual discrimination, r*pe, and other stories endured by women and girls on the war front.
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