|When the World Was Young
3.5 / 5
"The children rejoiced."
Wally Baker is no ordinary girl. Living in her grandparents’ Brooklyn Heights brownstone, she doesn’t like dresses, needlepoint, or manners. Her love of Wonder Woman comics and ants makes her feel like a misfit—especially in the shadow of her dazzling but unstable mother, Stella.
Acclaimed author Elizabeth Gaffney’s irresistible novel captures postwar Brooklyn through Wally’s eyes, opening on V-J day, as she grows up with the rest of America. Reeling from her own unexpected wartime tragedy and navigating an increasingly fraught landscape, Wally is forced to confront painful truths about the world—its sorrows, its prejudices, its conflicts, its limitations. But Wally also finds hope and strength in the unlikeliest places.
With an unforgettable cast of characters, including the increasingly distant and distracted Stella; Loretta, the family’s black maid and Wally’s second mother; Ham, Loretta’s son, who shares Wally’s enthusiasm for ants and exploration; Rudy, Wally’s father, a naval officer, away serving in the Pacific; and Mr. Niederman, the family’s boarder, who never seems to answer Wally’s questions—and who she suspects may have something to hide—Elizabeth Gaffney crafts an immersive, beautifully realized novel about the truths that divide and the love that keeps us together.
I enjoyed this little diversion of a book. It was a nice, lighter read compared to a bunch of denser classics I've been working on lately. I selected this because it is one of many books I am behind on reading for Netgalley, so I am making an intentional push to get through more of my backlog! This book was published way back in August of 2014 (actually, it was first published in 2006!). So I clearly missed my window of opportunity. But I am glad I finally got around to it. It told a quaint story of a young girl growing up in just-postwar Brooklyn. She struggles to find her own path in life, haunted by the decisions made by her parents.
Wally was an enjoyable and unique character who loves bugs - something certainly unexpected for a girl in the 1940s. She was lucky enough to be able to pursue this passion, however. It was nice to see a strong female character succeeding in a STEM field, especially in that time period.
I felt that some of the characters and relationships fell a bit flat in this book; I had a hard time buying the passion that supposedly drove several of them. Everyone seemed a bit too detached, unemotional, about the love that propelled the direction of their lives.
I note that other reviewers felt that the book just lacked a certain something, and I have to agree with them there. While it had such a fantastic premise, it just didn't truly deliver anything of substance. It left me feeling unemotional, one way or another. I think this could be a great light read to take along while traveling, or to audiobook while on a long drive. There's a good story there.
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