All Good Women by Valerie Miner
I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Hello happy readers! Recently I found out about NetGalley and before I could stop myself, I requested a couple books to read that I’m very excited about. The first of these books that I’ll review here on Baxter’s Book Nook is Valerie Miner’s All Good Women. Let’s dive on in!
Miner’s novel tells the story of four very different young women who become friends right as trouble is brewing in Europe prior to World War II. Spanning twelve years, All Good Women details the friendships and lives of these women from 1938 to 1950. They meet in secretarial school, each with their own ambitions and dreams. They end up moving in together to a house on Stockton Street in San Francisco with big plans for life. Moira, a young woman of Scottish descent, dreams of becoming an actress. Ann, from a Jewish family, wants to continue her education. Japanese-American Wanda wants nothing more than to become a journalist, exposing the problems of the world around them. And Teddy isn’t sure what she wants aside from trying to keep things staying the same with all her friends at the house.
The problem is, with the war brewing, things can’t stay the same. Each girl is affected differently, but none escape the hardships that come from the war even though they aren’t the ones fighting the battles. Wanda and her family are sent to an internment camp along with the other Japanese-American families from the coast. Ann decides to go to London to help with the refugee Jewish children who have been torn from their families, unsure of their parents’ fate. Moira begins working in a factory to help with the war effort and struggles with her desires in life. Teddy tries to keep everything together with her family and friends while at the same time coming to terms with her homosexuality.
This book was a little slow to start for me, and at the beginning there were a few time jumps that I didn’t expect. Eventually, as I grew to know the characters and as the story moved on a linear timeline, I enjoyed the experience of reading All Good Women more and more. Although, on second thought, I’m not entirely sure I’d choose the word ‘enjoyed’ to describe my time with the book. This book seems to be a pretty realistic portrayal of the lives of some women living at this time. It is evident that Miner put in a great deal of research to write this book. Because of this realistic approach, the book isn’t much of an ‘upper’ if you know what I mean. World War II was a tragic time in our nation’s history and Miner does a wonderful job portraying its affects on individual families and friendships. I think one of my favorite things that Miner did in All Good Women is in writing about a difficulty or hardship of one of the girls, it isn’t’t always told through the eyes of that character. This created an interesting dynamic in understanding the friendships and personalities of the individual characters.
All Good Women isn’t a perfect book. At times, I found myself actually questioning if these four girls would be friends in real life or if Miner just created a situation where she could easily write about four very different people in one time period. As I was thinking this to myself towards the end of the book, one of the characters (Ann) actually has the very same thought, and she answers my question. “She occasionally wondered why they had stayed so close despite their different directions. But the answer to that question was why they had become friends in the first place: something in each of them transcended parents and religion and ethnicity and marriage and children – a common independence and a shared sense of potential” (page 424-425). Alright, you got me.
If I had to pick a word that would describe how I felt after reading All Good Women, it would be melancholy. Like I said before, I’m not sure I’d pick the word ‘enjoy’ to describe my reading of the novel. With that being said, I don’t mean for you to be turned off of the book by the word melancholy. All Good Women is definitely worth reading for its different take on World War II historical fiction. I’ve read many a book from this time period, but I don’t think any of them were quite like Miner’s novel. You should just know going into the book that nothing is sugarcoated. It also doesn’t leave you feeling overwhelmingly happy. This is actually a feeling that I kind of like though, this melancholy. Not that this book ended in tragedy, but I appreciate when an author doesn’t baby their reader by writing a book full of hardship that ends with a magical happy ending ending.
So those are my thoughts on Valerie Miner’s All Good Women. It’s definitely worth your time if you’re looking for a different take on this time period in history. It’s also a great study of women and their friendships. Please let me know if you decide to check out All Good Women for yourself!