When her beloved brother is declared missing in action, smart, flinty Juliet Dufresne, training to be a nurse, goes to Italy to find him, in an empathetic, oblique take on the layers of damage done during war.
Part mystery, part coming-of-age tale, part World War II novel, Vanderbes’ (Strangers at the Feast, 2010, etc.) overlong but incrementally moving latest is written from the perspective of a bright Southern teenager who is forced to become an adult too soon. Losing her mother at age 3 has left Juliet especially close to her brother Tuck, so when he disappears while fighting in Europe, she forges her birth certificate so she can enlist immediately after graduating from the Cadet Nurse Corps. Soon, she is tending injured men on the Italian front, one of whom is Barnaby—a deserter who has attempted suicide—who was in the same squad as Tuck. Working with the attractive psychiatrist Dr. Willard, Juliet tries to discover what Barnaby knows about Tuck’s last movements while all around her, young men and even her colleagues are being wounded and destroyed. With Barnaby sentenced to death, Willard and Juliet find themselves involved in a wild effort to save him, a journey which leads to truths Juliet will fully understand when the war ends.
What begins as formulaic turns unusual and affecting as the emotional depths of Vanderbes’ story slowly emerge.