Publisher: Random House (Spiegel & Grau)
“Next to Love” is a moving novel about war, love, friendships and society spanning from 1944 to 1964. At the heart of this novel are three friends in a small Massachusetts town. Gracie, Babe, and Millie have been friends since the first day of grade school. All grown up, and making their own life choices each girl struggles with love when it is clear that war is imminent. All the good men are signing up to “fight the good fight” and these women must standby waiting for their return. Gracie marries her beloved Charlie and dutifully lives under the roof of her powerful and wealthy father-in-law while Charlie is away. When the war breaks out she is a young wife and new mother. Millie marries Pete and before she knows it, he is gone off to war, but she is ecstatic to learn she is pregnant. Babe is hoping that Claude would ask her to marry him, but he runs off to camp with the promise to marry her one day. His promise soon turns into a proposal, and Babe drops everything and travels to visit Claude at training camp to marry him before he is sent off to war. Babe is an independent, unconventional thinker. She joins in on the war effort, and begins working at Western Union to assist . As each message arrives, she is panicked that one would be word that Claude has not survived. Guilt sets in when she is relieved that Claude is not the latest victim, but she has to have bad news delivered to those around her on a daily basis. Each of these young women strives to find a place in their new surroundings. When the war has ended not all the men return home, and those who do return home are not the same men that left their small towns.
The concept of this book was really interesting told from each woman’s perspective. Letters home from the men gave a glimpse at life on the front lines. Rather than dealing with those who have gone off to war, the novel focuses more on those who have been left behind. While the book covers three women, Babe is certainly the heart of the story. Despite the different perspectives I really only enjoyed Babe’s story. Often I was skimming to focus more on Babe’s. At times I felt like the other characters were choppy and the novel didn’t flow well. I was confused at the beginning and felt that the book was jumping around from character to character and I didn’t really know what was happening. I believe this novel would have been much better if it would have been longer. The characters needed more time to develop. Despite the flaws, I did enjoy the book. The novel really picked up when some men returned home. I think this book had a lot of potential but it lacked in character development and flow or it should have focused more on Babe or less on Millie and Gracie.