What I Saw and How I Lied, by Judy Blundell
This book had an engaging narrator in Evelyn (something about that name in 1940s stories, I guess), who is fifteen in the summer of 1947. Her stepfather, Joe, has recently come home from serving in Europe and has opened two successful stores selling the latest appliances, like washing machines and air conditioning units. Joe surprises Evelyn and her mother by taking them on a road trip from their home in Queens, New York, to Palm Beach, Florida, which was the place to go if you were anybody. Evelyn struggles to shed her little girl, goody-two-shoes image while away from home and meets Peter, a man in his early twenties who treats her like a grown-up. He pays compliments to both Evelyn and her gorgeous mother and Evelyn finds herself falling hopelessly in love with him.
Of course, all is not as it seems. Peter says he knew Joe during the war, but Joe is uneasy in Peter’s presence, at times becoming downright hostile. Peter finally tells Evelyn what he and Joe did after the war, and soon Evelyn learns more family secrets than she ever wanted to know, all the while wondering if her first love returns her affections.
I loved that this book doesn’t skirt around the prejudices and unsavory cultural practices of this era. There is a lot of anti-Semitism from many sides, and Evelyn, who is Catholic and who grew up in a religiously-segregated neighborhood, wrestles with her feelings as she sees this play out with people she’s come to care about. All the adult characters smoke as if cigarettes were water in a desert and drink cocktails every night before dinner, which was very typical of their time period. Evelyn has no magical insight from the future that smoking causes lung cancer and heavy drinking causes liver damage, and all the while my nose wrinkled I appreciated that historical authenticity.
I also loved that the characters celebrated the war being over and tried to move on with their lives, but found it hard in many ways to do so. Just because sugar and cigarettes were available didn’t mean the scars of war were healed, and this book does a wonderful job of showing how such a huge, all-encompassing event is not over just because you want it to be.