A coming-of-age romance set in the early 20th century.
In a mountain valley in Stones Mill, Va., nine-year-old Jack Langdon shares a bed with his younger brothers and sidesteps blows from surly father John. One bright spot is Jack’s grandmother and her prophecies, which hint that the boy’s destiny lies in becoming a lady’s special protector. When his sister Grace is born, Jack believes she is his lady of prophecy. He becomes Grace’s â€œproverbial guard dog,” defending her against his brothers and his father, who attacks Jack with a brick, shortly after his 17th birthday. In 1917, volunteers are needed for the U.S. Army, and Jack readily enlists. En route to the military base, he sees a beautiful, red-haired, green-eyed girl, who becomes his wartime fantasy. On the Western Front, he experiences the horrors of trench warfare. In France, lovely nurse EsmÃ© cares for an injured Jack–and he eventually follows her to Paris, where she teaches him more than a few French phrases. The war ends and Jack returns home, encountering the gorgeous redhead he thought he’d never see again. Alice wears pants and makeup, has an aunt who was a suffragette and can hold her own with Jack’s father–none of which endears her to his family or the locals. The book is a simple, charming story and Jack is an amiable guy who, like George Bailey of Bedford Falls, wants to leave his hometown but seems tethered to a retractable cord. Especially touching is Jack’s fear that he is more like his father than he’d hoped. The narrative explores Jack and Alice’s thoughts and feelings, making them both sympathetic characters. In spite of historical references, there’s no vital sense that events are unfolding in the early 1900s, but the tale’s inspiring undercurrent is the promise of a better life.
Engaging, evenly paced story of a young man’s journey from first romance to enduring love.