Two women, separated by a century and a half, survive life in the United States military in Estes' suspenseful, neatly structured second novel.
Larkin Bennett has recently returned home to the state of Washington after a stint in Afghanistan, suffering from PTSD and mourning the death of her best friend and fellow soldier, Sarah. As she cleans out Sarah's storage locker, she discovers the diary that Sarah said inspired her to become a soldier. It belonged to Emily Wilson, who grew up on a farm in Indiana and, during the Civil War, changed her name to Jesse and posed as a man in order to join the Army. Estes (The Girl Who Wrote in Silk, 2015) moves smoothly between the stories of Larkin, who with the help of her grandmother and other friends and relatives begins to find her way back into civilian life, and Emily, who both faces the horrors of war and starts to recognize the freedom inherent in appearing to others as a man. Estes includes passages from the (fictional) diary but primarily reveals Emily in the third person. Although the historical dialogue is occasionally anachronistic (would anyone in the 1860s say, “Yeah, me too”?) and the contemporary dialogue is sometimes overloaded with facts about the past, both central characters are credible and well developed. They're surrounded by equally intriguing secondary characters, including Emily's brother Ben and fellow soldier Willie and, in the contemporary sections, Sarah's brother, Zach, with whom Larkin forms a tentative relationship. Though it would have been easy to make Emily the more compelling character, Larkin's struggles with survivor's guilt and the day-to-day issues of recovering from war make her story just as riveting.
The novel brings the Civil War era to life and effectively links it to contemporary times.