[A neighbour is describing exciting events in her quiet suburban street]
“…That’s when I ran to the phone and called the police. Before Sergeant Petty came – and I don’t think it’s right to have a woman in pants like that, I don’t care if that’s what war workers wear –“ She lifted her hand, pressed it to her lips, then cried, “Oh, I’m sorry, Gretchen, I know your mother works at the plant in Tulsa and it’s real important to have people working to make the airplanes and I know she has to dress that way, but Sergeant Petty looks almost like a man and she walks like one too.
Gretchen ran to the front door. The dark blue Buick was dusty… the passenger door swung out. Wiry blond curls poked from beneath a saucer of a hat with a bright pink feather.
“Mother! Mother!” Gretchen jumped down the steps, ran. Her mother ran, too, despite her high heels and short skirt.
observations: When I featured a different Carolyn Hart book on the blog (Brave Hearts, see entry here) my blogging friend TracyK mentioned that she had this book, and had heard good things about it. As Brave Hearts had come via Col and his Criminal Library, there was a certain symmetry in obtaining the second one. (Making online friends can lead to an augmented TBR pile…)
Anyway I started reading it, thinking it was an interesting but routine story about a teenage girl growing up in small-town America during the Second World War – but slowly it pulled me in, and manipulated my emotions. Gretchen’s mother is away at an aircraft plant, as above, she lives with her grandmother, helps out at the family café, and really wants to be a journalist. Her friend Barb lives nearby, and so when there is trouble over there, Gretchen wants to help her friend, and also wants to get the story. This is a crime/murder story, but more than that.
The atmosphere of a small town in Oklahoma is very well done, and so is the feel for wartime, and of course the clothes they all wear. Hart was born in 1936 so must have been younger than Gretchen, but you would guess that the background is her own and truly authentic. One thing I liked about the book was that she clearly had points to make – about tolerance, about gossip, about the effects of war, and about prejudice – and she most certainly makes them in the book: you wouldn’t have any doubt about where she stands on these issues. But still they are a genuine part of the story, and the plot is very well done and holds your interest. I found parts of the book highly affecting, and even had to brush away the odd tear. One thing Gretchen tries to do is to show the truth about someone who has died, and whose Bohemian and unconventional ways have been blamed for her death – ‘bringing it on herself.’ She collects memories from friends, and from those whose lives were touched by the dead woman, to try to put things right. The whole section is beautifully done, and is a legitimate part of the plot.
This is an odd little book, and one I might easily have missed – but it’s a very good one, so thanks to both Col and Tracy for leading me to it.
The women working in the aircraft fuselage in the top picture are at a Douglas Aircraft Factory (although they are in California, and the mother mentioned above works in Tulsa) working on a Flying Fortress in 1942. The picture is from the Library of Congress. The fashion sketch, for spring 1941, is from the New York Public Library digital collection.