The Girls They Left Behind


Like any teenager, Natalie wants to have fun. But it's 1944, and almost all the boys she knows have signed up and are being shipped overseas to fight the war in Europe. Too often she takes the trip to Union Station to wave goodbye to another friend, wondering if he_ll ever come home again. And like her other girlfriends, Natalie is getting tired of waiting for the war to be over. There are still dances at the Armories to meet handsome boys in uniform, but is that all a girl can ...

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Like any teenager, Natalie wants to have fun. But it's 1944, and almost all the boys she knows have signed up and are being shipped overseas to fight the war in Europe. Too often she takes the trip to Union Station to wave goodbye to another friend, wondering if he_ll ever come home again. And like her other girlfriends, Natalie is getting tired of waiting for the war to be over. There are still dances at the Armories to meet handsome boys in uniform, but is that all a girl can do for the war effort?

Natalie has a plan. Her first move was to change her name from Beryl, which didn_t sound sophisticated at all. Now she quits school and takes a job at a department store. Buying War Saving Stamps with her meager earnings is not enough for Natalie, however, and soon she finds work at De Havilland Aircraft, making bombers. But it is during this time, when she is taking the most pride in her war work, that Natalie and her family get the news they_ve been dreading: her cousin, a gunner in the Dambusters Squadron, is listed as missing, presumed dead. And as news of other boys reaches home - some of it good but so much of it bad - Natalie begins to wonder what kind of world will be there for them all when the war finally ends.

At times funny and at other times deeply moving, Bernice Thurman Hunter's last novel is drawn from her own memories of being a teenager in Toronto during World War II. In Natalie, Hunter has created a spunky, outspoken and utterly charming character, which readers young and old will revel in. And in her unforgettable portrait of the home front, Hunter has brought to life the daily trials and tribulations of a generation of women who had to stand by whiletheir men went to war.

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Editorial Reviews

Countless novels have been written over the last 50 years about WW II and the boys and men who fought so bravely, but few have focused on the girls and women they left behind—the wives, mothers, and girlfriends who prayed, hoped, and waited for their loved ones to return. Canadian author Hunter has written a wonderful coming-of-age story set in 1940s Toronto about how one feisty girl, 17-year-old Natalie Brigham, does more than buy Victory Bonds or knit socks in order to help the war effort. No longer satisfied with waving goodbye to male friends and relatives at the train station as they are sent to war, Natalie decides that even if she cannot join them in battle, she can do her patriotic duty on the home front. She announces to her anxious parents that she is "going into war work." Over the course of a year, Natalie moves from a job at Eaton's department store to a plant making fighter planes. Along the way, the novel follows Natalie's best friend, Eloise, who marries her high school sweetheart just before he is sent overseas, and Aunt Marie, whose son, Natalie's cousin and close friend, is lost in action. The book is lively, filled with colorful characters and tender moments. During her year of "war work," Natalie the giddy teenager is transformed into a thoughtful and mature young woman. KLIATT Codes: JS*—Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2005, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 192p., Ages 12 to 18.
—Robin M. Dasher-Alston
Beryl, aka Natalie, is seventeen during 1943. Seeing friends off at Union Station as they enlist in World War II, Natalie feels helpless. Wanting to aid the war effort, she skips her last year in school to work, initially in a munitions factory and subsequently building airplanes. She is good at her job and is soon promoted. As soon as the war ends, however, returning soldiers scoop up factory jobs held by women, and Natalie is fired. Interspersed throughout the story are Natalie's feelings and her concern for her second cousin, Carmen, flying dangerous missions in an effort to "bomb Jerry right off the map." During one such mission, Carmen's plane is shot down and he is presumed dead. The impact on Carmen's mother, Natalie's family, and Carmen's British girlfriend is explored. Set in Canada, this book non-threateningly touches on domestic World War II issues, such as feelings when friends go to war, some not returning, food rationing, women taking factory jobs only to be displaced at the war's end, and war brides. Unfortunately it does not capture the depth and range of emotions that war elicits. All characters are likeable. Pacing is adequate. Conflict is minimal. The writing is simple and nondescriptive. Movie stars and household products of the period, of which teen readers might not be familiar, are mentioned. Ten- to thirteen-year-olds, for whom the book is appropriate, deserve a meatier discussion of war. Middle school and public libraries can consider but need not rush out and buy this book. VOYA CODES: 3Q 3P M (Readable without serious defects; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8). 2005, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 191p., Trade pb. Ages 11 to 14.
—Ed Goldberg
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-An unfinished manuscript completed by her daughter after the author's death, this historical novel is based on Hunter's memories of her teen years on the World War II Canadian homefront. Told partly in the form of entries from a diary kept by the main character, Natalie, and partly in first-person narrative, this is the story of young men going off to war, young women taking on war-related jobs at home, and everyone left behind worrying about whether their friends and loved ones will return to them. Natalie, who has dropped out of high school to take a job at an aircraft plant, is especially concerned about her favorite cousin, Carmen, who eventually goes missing in action. With its inclusion of brand names, wartime prices, and details about rationing and blackouts, this book will have particular appeal to nostalgic adults who have similar memories of daily life during World War II. This attention to the background detail is the book's strongest point; unfortunately, the characters lack depth and young readers will not find the plot compelling.-Ginny Gustin, Sonoma County Library System, Santa Rosa, CA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781550419276
  • Publisher: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, Limited
  • Publication date: 3/7/2005
  • Pages: 192
  • Age range: 12 years
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Bernice Thurman Hunter did not see her first novel published until she was almost 60, but she went on to produce 15 novels for young readers including That Scatterbrain Booky (0590710826) and Janey's Choice (0590124978). Bernice died in 2002.

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