Dream When You're Feeling Blue

( 65 )


New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Berg takes us to Chicago at the time of World War II in this wonderful story about three sisters, their lively Irish family, and the men they love.
As the novel opens, Kitty and Louise Heaney say good-bye to their boyfriends Julian and Michael, who are going to fight overseas. On the domestic front, meat is rationed, children participate in metal drives, and Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller play songs that offer hope and lift spirits. And...

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Dream When You're Feeling Blue: A Novel

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New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Berg takes us to Chicago at the time of World War II in this wonderful story about three sisters, their lively Irish family, and the men they love.
As the novel opens, Kitty and Louise Heaney say good-bye to their boyfriends Julian and Michael, who are going to fight overseas. On the domestic front, meat is rationed, children participate in metal drives, and Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller play songs that offer hope and lift spirits. And now the Heaney sisters sit at their kitchen table every evening to write letters–Louise to her fiancé, Kitty to the man she wishes fervently would propose, and Tish to an ever-changing group of men she meets at USO dances. In the letters the sisters send and receive are intimate glimpses of life both on the battlefront and at home. For Kitty, a confident, headstrong young woman, the departure of her boyfriend and the lessons she learns about love, resilience, and war will bring a surprise and a secret, and will lead her to a radical action for those she loves. The lifelong consequences of the choices the Heaney sisters make are at the heart of this superb novel about the power of love and the enduring strength of family.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

A Rita Hayworth look-alike and her sister keep the home fires burning for young men going off to fight WWII in Berg's nostalgic tale of wartime romance and family sacrifice. Hoping her boyfriend, Julian, will propose before shipping out to the Pacific, beautiful redhead Kitty Heaney discovers not only is she not engaged, but she's enlisted as the delivery person for her sister Louise's engagement ring from Michael, her boyfriend, who has departed for the European front. Distance makes Louise's and Michael's hearts grow fonder while Kitty discovers independence through her job at a bomber factory. As the months go by, Louise learns she is pregnant and Kitty meets an attractive soldier (one of many the girls encounter) at a USO dance. As the young soldiers offer a range of feelings about war from humor to anger, wonder to despair, Berg (We Are All Welcome Here; The Handmaid and the Carpenter; 2000 Oprah pick Open House) captures changing attitudes toward working women and single mothers in this sentimental celebration of a bygone era. (May)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal
World War II is raging, and sisters Kitty and Louise have already seen the boys they love march off to battle, while little sis Tish starts dancing up a storm at USO events. Their tale is told through the letters they exchange. With a 14-city tour; Reader's Circle book group feature. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal

Berg (Open House) has done a spot-on job of researching the World War II years; she hardly misses a beat. She focuses on the Chicago Heaneys, a loving family enduring the tumultuous years of 1943-46. USO dances, pin curls, V-mail, food rationing, and newsreels figure prominently in this romantic story of the three Heaney sisters, nicknamed the "Dreamy Girls." Eldest Kitty, front and center, is unlike her younger sisters. Searching for more than a husband, she attempts to make her own contribution to the war effort by entering the aircraft industry and is one of the few local young women to do so. As the war rages on, Kitty begins to have her doubts about the future. Closing in on Kitty and her sisters' frivolities, innocence, and adjustment to loss, Berg also sheds light on the nation's acclimation to war. The Heaneys' warmth and love are integral to Berg's portrait, as is a 1940s Chicago that includes streetcars, Marshall Fields, the Palmer House, and summers on Lake Michigan. Yet while the evolving era and the family's intimacies are painstakingly presented, the conclusion is rushed and thus compromised. Nevertheless, this is a good purchase for public libraries, especially where Berg is popular. [See Prepub Alert, LJ1/07.]
—Andrea Tarr

Kirkus Reviews
A Chicago trio maintains long-distance romances with their WWII soldiers. Berg's latest (The Handmaid and the Carpenter, 2006, etc.) centers on a lively family in the Midwest. The large, God-fearing and Communist-hating Heaney brood consists of doting but strict parents, three beautiful daughters and three spunky sons. The Heaney family tries to do its part for the war effort: The young ones collect scrap metal, the older ones work in factories. Berg does a fine job of capturing the lives of American civilians during the war-there are references to everything from FDR's "Fireside Chats" to Ladies Home Journal rationing recipes. The bulk of the story centers on the three Heaney girls as they transition into adulthood. Reminiscent of the beloved girls from Little Women, the Heaney sisters (Louise, Kitty and Tish) are passionate, headstrong and for the most part admirable-though they each have moments of self-absorption and carelessness. Their spare time is devoted to writing letters to their far-off loves, and this is where Berg focuses her efforts. The sisters' barrage of mundane letters is for the most part tiresome. A few tear-stained epistles would have done the trick, but Berg takes it too far. An overwrought and monotonous depiction of life in Middle America during WWII.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345487544
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/29/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 279,936
  • Product dimensions: 5.15 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.65 (d)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Berg

Elizabeth Berg is the New York Times bestselling author of many novels, including We Are All Welcome Here, The Year of Pleasures, The Art of Mending, Say When, True to Form, Never Change, and Open House, which was an Oprah’s Book Club selection in 2000. Durable Goods and Joy School were selected as ALA Best Books of the Year, and Talk Before Sleep was short-listed for the ABBY Award in 1996. The winner of the 1997 New England Booksellers Award for her body of work, Berg is also the author of a nonfiction work, Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True. She lives in Chicago.

To schedule a speaking engagement, please contact American Program Bureau at www.apbspeakers.com  

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    1. Hometown:
      Chicago, Illinois
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 2, 1948
    2. Place of Birth:
      St. Paul, Minnesota
    1. Education:
      Attended the University of Minnesota; St. Mary’s College, A.A.S.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

APRIL 1943

It was Kitty’s turn to sleep with her head at the foot of the bed. She didn’t mind; she preferred it, actually. She liked the mild disorientation that came from that position, and she liked the relative sense of privacy—her sisters’ feet in her face, yes, but not their eyes, not their ears, nor the close, damp sounds of their breathing. And at the foot of the bed she was safe from Louise, who often yanked mercilessly at people’s hair in her sleep.
Tonight Kitty was last to bed, having been last in the bathroom. Everybody liked it when Kitty was last in the bathroom because, of the eight people living in the house, she always took the longest. Apart from the normal ablutions, she did things in there: affected poses she thought made her look even more like Rita Hayworth—she did look like Rita Hayworth, everyone said so. She filed her fingernails, she experimented with combining perfumes to make a new scent, she creamed her face, she used eyebrow pencil to make beauty marks above her lip. She also read magazines in the bathroom because there, no one read over her shoulder. Oh, somebody would bang on the door every time she was  in there, somebody was always banging on the bathroom door, but a  girl could get a lot done in a room with a locked door. Kitty could do more in five minutes in the bathroom than in thirty minutes anywhere else in the house, where everyone in the family felt it their right—their obligation!—to butt into everyone else’s business.
When Kitty came out of the bathroom, she tiptoed into the bedroom, where it appeared her sisters were already asleep—Tish on her side with her knees drawn up tight, Louise with the covers flung off. Kitty crouched down by Louise and whispered her sister’s name. Kitty wanted to talk; she wasn’t ready to sleep yet. But Louise didn’t budge.
Kitty moved to the bottom of the bed, slid beneath the covers, and sighed quietly. She stared up at the ceiling, thinking of Julian, of how tomorrow he would be leaving, off to fight in the Pacific with the Marines, and no one knew for how long. And Michael, Louise’s fiancé, he would be leaving, too, leaving at the same time but going in the opposite direction, for he was in the Army and shipping out to Europe. And why were they not in the same branch of the service, these old friends? Because Julian liked the forest green of the Marine uniforms better than the olive drab of the Army or the blue of the Navy. Also because James Roosevelt, the president’s son, was in the Marines.
It seemed so odd to Kitty. So frightening and dangerous and even romantic; there was an element of romance to this war, but mostly it just felt so odd. As though the truth of all this hadn’t quite caught up with her, nor would it for a while. No matter the graphic facts in FDR’s Day of Infamy speech after the bombing of Pearl Harbor: the three thousand lives lost, the next day’s declaration of war on Japan, then Germany’s declaration of war on the United States. Kitty’s facts were these: she was Kitty; he was Julian; every Saturday night they went downtown for dinner at Toffenetti’s and then to one of the movie palaces on State Street. Sometimes, after that, he would take her to the Empire Room at the Palmer House for a pink squirrel, but her parents didn’t like for Kitty to stay out so late, or to drink. Now his leave after basic was up and he was shipping out, he was going over there. And both boys foolishly volunteering for the infantry!
Kitty rose up on her elbows and again whispered Louise’s name. A moment, and then she spoke out loud. “Hey? Louise?” Nothing. Kitty fell back and rested her hands across her chest, one over the other, then quickly yanked them apart. It was like death, to lie that way; it was how people lay in coffins. She never slept that way, she always slept on her side. Why had she done that? Was it a premonition of some sort, a sign? What if it was a sign? “Louise!” she said, and now her sister mumbled back, “Cripes, Kitty, will you go to sleep!” It was good to hear her sister’s voice, even in anger. It soothed and anchored her. She breathed out, closed her eyes, and in a short while felt herself drifting toward sleep. She wanted to dream of Julian on the day she first met him: confident, careless, his blond hair mussed and hanging over one eye, his short-sleeved shirt revealing the disturbing curves of his muscles. She tried to will herself toward that.

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Reading Group Guide

1. Elizabeth Berg titles Dream When You’re Feeling Blue after a Johnny Mercer song, and the popular culture of the 1940s is referenced throughout the novel. Can you find some descriptions of the popular culture of the day? How does the title enhance or complement the narrative?

2. The discombobulation and strangeness of the wartime era are fore-grounded throughout the story, often in counterpoint to the normalcy of the Heaneys’ everyday life. Can you find some examples?

3. Kitty’s love for Louise “made her her best self.” (p. 180) Many different kinds of love are depicted in the novel. What kind of love do you think makes each character his or her best self?

4. “It’s not the ring that makes you engaged. It’s the promise,” Louise says (p. 21), and the novel examines the difference between symbols and the realities they’re believed to represent. Which symbols in the book accurately represent reality? Which do not?

5. “If you weren’t engaged you were nothing” (p. 27) is the message Kitty has seen in advertisements all around her. What differences in gender roles and expectations did you notice between the forties and today?

6. Kitty never marries or has children of her own. Do you think it is fair to say that her real “children” are her sisters and brothers? Why or why not? Do you think Kitty is happy with her life at the end?

7. Visions and premonitions play an important role in the novel. Can you find some examples of premonitory visions or dreams? How do they shape the narrative?

8. “Kitty and her sisters had always looked down on girls who got pregnant out of wedlock, on those who had relations outside of marriage” (p. 164), but Margaret defends Louise, saying that “her terrible crime was to show love to her fiancé.” (p. 180) Do you think Louise and Michael make the right decision?

9. Throughout the novel, the role of deceit–often well-meaning or by omission–is highlighted as an unavoidable aspect of family life. Think of some instances of deceit in the novel, then discuss. Were the consequences positive or negative?

10. The Heaneys are devout Catholics, and each of them struggles with the moral ambiguities of war. In particular, how do Kitty, Tommy, Margaret, and Frank come to terms with this issue? How does Hank influence Kitty’s opinions? Which characters’ ideas are the most compelling to you?

11. In your opinion, was Frank Heaney a good father? Why or why not?

12. The family always said, “If one Heaney girl loved you, the three of them did. And if you loved one Heaney girl, you loved them all.”(p. 211) What do you think of Kitty’s sacrifice? Did she make the right decision for herself? For Louise? For Hank? Do you think Julian and Tish were happy together in the long run?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 65 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 65 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 17, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    absolutly LOVE this book!

    This book opened my eyes to so much. It made me wish my grandfather was still alive so I could ask him about the girls he wrote too while he was in the war, and ask him so many other questions. I'm 24 years old and really I didnt know much (or really care) about WWII but reading this book made me want to know, it made me wish I had grown up during it and been apart. I wanted to work on the planes and do the "mans" job while they were off to war. It was an amazing book that really pulled at my heart strings....

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 25, 2009

    Must read!!

    Reading this book is like being transported back to WWII and living with an American family in day-to-day life. I picked this up at Barnes and Noble on a Publisher's Clearance table... wasn't sure whether it would be as great as I thought it might be... but it was summer so I went for it. It is FANTASTIC! I couldn't wait to get home to read it each day- not because it was an on the edge of my seat read- but because I wanted to be with the family in the book. It gives insight to American life during WWII that I have never had before... metal collection, limited food choices, military factories... all for "the sake of the boys at war." I am truly able to understand the life that my grandparents lived at that time. As odd as this may sound, I feel honored to have been "allowed" to be with the characters in this book. I have already passed it to my mother, who has added her name below mine on the inside cover and will pass it to another family member before sharing it with our community of friends. I do not usually write reviews... but this one was worth my time. If you enjoy character studies, you will love this book. ENJOY!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Great Novel, Not So Great Ending

    When I first picked up this book I fell in love with the characters and the life that they were leading. As I read I felt a connection with Kitty and with the confusion she was feeling over her work her family and her struggle between Julian and Hank. I loved the novel until I reached the chapter titled Valentines Day 1946. I read this chapter 3 times to full grasp the context and when I did finally get the full picture I was disappointed. I was also let down by the final chapter. A would have gladly read a few more chapter to understand how things changed so much between the end of the war and 1946.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2009

    Definitly Worth Reading!

    I'm not going to lie, I picked up this book because I loved the cover, and the title is such a great song. The 1940's had the best music, and appariently the best romance, as Berg artfully illistrates. "Dream When Your Feeling Blue" is by far her best work--right after finishing it I read almost all the rest of her books, but none compared with this. The main character was very relatable, and the story is a fast and easy read. Its perfect for a day when one needs to unwind and escape into another world. Berg creates an ironicly "ideal world" for us, despite the raging war, the Heaney household is an image that every American is familiar with, even if they are familiar with it purely through books or tv/movies. By the end of the book one feels as if they really do know the characters, inside and out--you really fall in love with the characters and setting of the book. The end is a twist, which I must admit I very much disliked, but it shocked me and definitly made this book memorable, however much I disagree with Berg's choice. <BR/> There is a definite feminist tone to the novel and its plot, but ironically the feminist choice the main character makes seems to leave her slightly unhappy and definitly unfulfilled at the end of her life. Either way you want to look at it, the book and its ending are honest. <BR/> A definite read, I was most pleasantly surprised by how much I loved it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 29, 2013

    Not good. Had trouble staying interested and skipped huge sect

    Not good. Had trouble staying interested and skipped huge sections. The ending was abrupt and made mo sense in the context of the story line. Waste of money.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2013

    Well Written

    This book was very well written and I enjoyed the authenticity of the dialogue and the events. Unfortunately for me, the book never really seemed to pick up. I also was not a fan of the ending. I would reccomend however it to someone who enjoys reading about this time period as much as I do.

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  • Posted July 28, 2012

    This is just wonderful------a must read

    Gee ----was just born at the time these girls were writing their letters and did not really live thru any of it----just listening to my mom and her sister tell stories---well this could have been their book. The food they ate, church, dressing all of that I do remember and it brought back some wonderfull memories. Loved it only I read it tooooooo fast-----but you just had to---could not put the book down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2012

    I hated the ending!

    I loved the book dearly i cried about micheal and yelled about hank and complained to anyone who would listen how odd,depressing, over all annoying the ending was i just don't understand how one could that great of a book with that horrible of an ending poor kitty. Poor tish. Poor micheal. The ending needs to be junked.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2011

    Love love loved this book

    I loved this story of sisters during WW2. I would recommend this book to anyone!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2010

    Ending a huge disappointment

    Well, I love books about WWII and for the most part, this book was great. The descriptions, the letters from the soldiers to the sisters and vice versa gave the ability to transport back in time. I was able to connect with the characters and form a bond with them. And then came the ending, which was a shock - and not in a good way. The lack of explanation for why Kitty, Hank and Louise came to their decisions was infuriating. Maybe I could forgive Berg for marrying Hank to the wrong sister if she had only explained what lead Kitty to her ultimate sacrifice and the life that she missed out on. Or why Louise wouldn't be fooled by it - they were so in tune with each other for the whole story! Why Kitty still felt the need to lie after sixty years...the ending ruined the whole book for me and I would not waste my money on it if I were you.

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  • Posted April 3, 2010

    Dream When You're Feeling Blue

    I have bought several copies for friends. One of the best books I have ever read.

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  • Posted January 23, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    One of the Best Books I've Read - Ever

    With characters that draw you in and scenarios that pique your interest, I quite literally did not want this book to end. I borrowed it from the library at the suggestion of a friend and purchased it for a gift. It's amazing to capture the day to day life of a typical WWII family with such clarity.

    Be prepared to want to finish in one sitting. This book won't rock your world, but it will take you away to another place and time with vivid realism and personalities.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2009

    Enjoyed it

    Read the book in a weekend. I wasn't that keen on the ending. Both my daughters read it also, and both liked it.

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  • Posted May 9, 2009

    A beautiful book, but what, oh what, happened with the ending??

    I agree with most of the other reader reviews about his book. I thought it was beautifully written and I was intrigued and drawn in by the setting, characters, events, and the overall feel. But, of course I was shocked at the ending! I too was very confused while reading the second to last chapter when nothing had been explained about the changing in relationships! HOW could Hank end up with Louise? I just don't understand. I would have felt fulfilled after reading this book if the ending had been different so much more than after finishing the actual ending. Elizabeth Berg is a great author, and I am only a sixteen year old girl, but I would like to think stories do have a good ending sometimes. It seemed that Kitty's internal and external struggles and feelings were abandoned by everyone she loved. If Hank truly loved her, like he said in the end, why would he go off and marry her sister? I enjoyed the book, but I definitely wish the ending was different. Hopefully I will enjoy some of Berg's other novels.

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  • Posted February 23, 2009

    started off great and then became a great disappointment

    Started off great and then became a great disappointment. I spent the day reading this and I wish that I could get that day back. It started out great the plot was going well I really started to love the characters and wanted the best even thought I could tell from the begin who was going to come back and who was going to die I still rooted for the family. But then I read Valentines day 1946 and after and felt like I was robbed. I didn't want lite and fluffy but there was no build up to Valentines 1946 and then the dance at the end of the book was a disappointment. All in all the ending ruined the whole book for me.I would give away the ending just to save someone the disappointment but then I would have to relive it and like the book I would rather move on a try to purge my mind of the book all together.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2008

    wonderful story, disappointing ending

    I just finished this book and was transported to another time. World War II when men were gentlemen and good girls were swell kids. I think of it as the time my parents became engaged, before my own father went off to war. Loved the family dynamics but was so confused by the very abrupt ending that did not feel authentic. I certainly would have written the neat, more predictable ending.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2008

    Disappointed at Ending - Hope Elizabeth Berg reads feedback

    I have read most of Elizabeth Berg's novels because I love the way she writes. I enjoyed this book except the ending. It was almost as if she was tired of writing and just wanted to end the book and send it to her printer. At first I could not figure out what was going on when Kitty was helping her sister Louise with her wedding dress. It abruptly went from Louise being sad about her husband dying to Louise marrying Kitty's fiance'and then they abrubtly aged to 80 something. I was very disappointed. It did not make any sense. I was happy to read that other people here felt the same way. I hope Elizabeth reads these reviews.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2008

    Worst Ending in the History of Endings

    I liked this book, a lot. I got attatched to the charactors and perhaps even put myself in the place of Kitty, which may be the reason I am so mad about the ending to this book! It made no sense. How does a man engaged and in love to a woman end up marrying her sister just because the sisters fiance died in the war? Not to mention he STILL loves her even when they've grown old and he'd been married to the womans sister for 40 years!!! The author gives no explanation and I found it extremely upsetting. I've decided to completely ignore the authors written ending and write my own, because I find her version extremely frustrating. Besides that, the book is worth the read, if only for the emotional drama you'll experience afterwards :)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2008

    What was she thinking?

    I am a great fan of Elizabeth Berg ever since I discovered her but I too found the ending very disappointing. As other reviewers have written, the ending seemed rushed and almost like it was an after thought. Berg did a wonderful job in taking us to the past with her attention to details and then bam! It was an ending that did not at all seem to fit.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2008

    Not bad

    After reading the reviews posted on here, I was very reluctant to finish reading the book. This was my first book by the author and I really enjoyed it. If this is bad by her standards, then I can only think her other books must be great. I do have a grip though--on the back cover description the couple are all mixed up. I will add this author my must reads.

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