Title: Letter from Belleau Wood
Author: Mary Lou Cheatham
Genre: Historical / Romance / Military / Inspirational
This breezy novel shares the story of Trudy Cameron and her childhood sweetheart, Jeremy Smitherlin, as they grow apart and yet remain friends in the years leading up to World War I. They experience love and loss, the Spanish flu, and the uncertainties of the future as they both struggle to find their places in life.
The story documents Trudy’s experience in an all-women’s college and ways in which that time helped and complicated things for her, while also sharing many details of what the soldiers endured, both in their training camps in the United States and overseas in the trenches. Due to the focus on Trudy and Jeremy, both of whom seem to be from well-to-do families, the narrative can feel narrow in scope, but it creates a compelling story of what some experienced during those years.
There are moments when the sorrows in the story can feel a bit glossed over. When Trudy’s family falls on hard times after her father dies, the narrative moves things along in a matter of paragraphs, and while Jeremy’s past includes losing his mother and enduring the abuses of his father, that also melts away to where the pain is still there, but only in a vague manner.
In many ways, this story reads like a dream from another era, where there are hints of the historical trappings of the early 1900s yet everything flows along without necessarily bringing the time period to life. Similarly, there are story threads that just fade in and out when needed, with the connective pieces missing or relegated to minor details when they do enter the plot. The characters each seem to live in their own little world, caught up in the challenges of the moment in a way that doesn’t reference their own past or the larger history of their world, which can make the story feel timeless and immediate but might lose some of the historical appeal for some readers.
The author excels at sharing the characters’ emotions, showing them through memories, thoughts, and longings without becoming trite, cliché, or overly sentimental. The external details of the characters’ worlds are also nicely provided, to where readers are offered the basic information necessary to picture the settings and what the characters feel about those places, from Jeremy and Trudy’s family farms to the countryside of France. Even in these descriptions, the focus remains on the characters, adding to the feeling that they’re caught up in their own lives to the neglect of what others might be experiencing, but it presents a nicely consistent picture of how they perceive things.
Beautifully depicting love, regrets, and the worries one experiences about what could still be, this story will appeal to readers who prefer to focus on a character’s emotional world and experiences rather than the settings or historical trappings. The characters feel honest and sincere and the historical details are believable without bogging things down or keeping the plot moving. Overall, the plot is a satisfying blend of joy and sorrow without becoming gloomy or depressing, balancing realism with optimism and hope.
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