The Vietnam War comes home as rising political tensions culminate in the 1970 Kent State University shootings in this debut historical novel.
Seventeen-year-old Rachel Morelli is thrilled when her neighbor and longtime crush, Evan Olesson, returns to Kent, Ohio, from his service in Vietnam. She’s surprised to find that he’s lost nearly all the fingers on his left hand and that his dreams of studying music have disappeared. In a classic will-they-or-won’t-they love story, Rachel pines for Evan, but he seems to view her as a little sister. Fedel balances this romance with an exploration of Rachel’s artistic ambitions and her dream of attending Pratt Institute in New York City rather than local Kent State University. Behind the characters’ ambitions, the novel pulses with cultural details of 1969 and ’70: Rachel consumes Nestle Quik and watches Walter Cronkite on the news, and she struggles with what it means that women can wear jeans and that her older sister can be accepted into law school. The changing social mores create a colorful backdrop as Rachel and her peers begin to question everything they know. It all comes to a head with Evan’s return to Kent, as characters grapple with the Vietnam War. Fedel shows the steps of radicalization and—through Evan’s experience—how ordinary people can commit acts of violence. As the story moves ever closer to the infamous Kent State tragedy, during which Ohio National Guardsmen killed four students, the historical and political tensions grow. But the history remains grounded and never expository as Rachel tries to figure out how she feels about events as they happen. The strongest aspect of the book is how its characters use art as a form of resistance—Evan as a musician and Rachel as a visual artist; at one point, Evan explains that art is “fighting back in your own way, and when people see your art and they realize its truth, that’s a protest.”
A love story that engagingly merges themes of art and anger.