As part of a moral boost in Sarah Sundin's WWII novel, "With Every Letter," nurses write anonymous pen pal letters to soldiers with whom they are paired. Through the program, two lonely people find a secure source of friendship that cannot be influenced by what otherwise holds them back - her exotic looks and foreign upbringing, and his suffering under the stigma of being the son of a famous murderer. Philomela Blake, known as Mellie, is threatened to lose her position as a med-evac nurse - one of the nurses who takes care of wounded soldiers on the flights to hospitals away from the front - if she cannot make friends and work as part of the team. As a lieutenant and lead engineer for building airports as the Americans push forward toward Italy, Tom McGilliver needs to be able to lead his men, but his position is also threatened by his lack of authority and respect from his men. Together, sharing insight on what works for them in the other's place of failure, they build each other up, both in confidence in themselves and in faith in God, never expecting that they would fall in love over their correspondence.
There is so much growth in this story as Mellie and Gill overcome their failings. In a plan to avoid becoming his father, Gill tries to lead by showering his men with kindness and compassion, rather than ruling by fear, like so many other officers. However, kindness only goes so far; he cannot actually control his men, and not just Gill suffers for it - other officers and their men have to pick up the slack. For an excellent example of authority, Mellie recommends that Gill look to Jesus. Yes, Jesus was full of compassion and kindness, but he was not afraid to rebuke and discipline, which is what Gill needs to work at.
Some of what the other nurses say about Mellie is harsh, but it still is true - she has closed herself off from friendship for fear of being hurt. Like Mellie, so often we're afraid to lay our hearts bare, afraid to be rejected, afraid to feel one more disappointment. But that attitude neither shows love nor receives love. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love (I John 4:18). Letting go of fear is hard work, and it takes a lot of practice. It is no guarantee we will not be hurt - is not Jesus hurt constantly by rejection also? - but it opens us to a much fuller ability to receive and share God's love.
This is an excellent novel, and I feel enriched having read it. The Christian lessons and advice are not just "stuck in" to make it a Christian book - it is an intgral part of the characters, and they live their faith, imperfect though they are. Their letters feel real but do not overpower the plot or interactions they have with their peers and each other. The historical details of the med-evac nurses are fascinating, as well as the exotic settings as the war progresses. Definitely worth 5 out of 5 stars!
Here's the deal: anonymous mail being sent between war nurses and soldiers. One of the nurses is a shy girl, who's always been a little different and never had any good friends. One of the soldiers is liked well-enough, but has some real problems and a dark ancestry that shadows over his present life. With a story like that_what's not to love? I don't know, because I loved this book! It was a very unique concept, with the story told from both sides and the letters that were sent as well. A great setting, characters who were truly lovely, and just enough angst to make you want to find out what happens. Once I get a hard copy of this book, it'll definitely be going on my keepers shelf! I can't wait for the next one, On Distant Shores, which I today discovered focuses on a favorite character from THIS book.
Goodness, I think it's the first time this happens to me. JUST finished With Every Letter and boy a few days ago, I didn't believe that I would even be writing a positive review about it. I didn't believe that I would finish it.
Let me give you not the not so good part, then we'll get to the good one.
I really did not like the book at first sight. In fact I remember being on p. 120 and deciding to just forget about it all.
1) Things were moving at a REALLY slow pace. Too slow, in my opinion.
2) It's been a while since I studied WW2 so I was a bit confused about a lot of the historical facts. I have a general knowledge of the War, but I believe that for this book a more in-depth knowledge is required. Not to mention that the unfamiliar military language and context added to my confusion. (The author did her research well though!)
3) The characters frustrated me! Too self-conscious with VERY low self-esteem. They were the kind that you'd want to shake and say 'Come on! Don't think of yourself that way, you're worth more! Mellie was too shy to the point that I found her to be a bit childish at some points and Tom just would not take matters into his hands as the leader of his platoon and would just keep smiling, when clearly, his men were lazy and people were telling him that things were just not right. I understood their reasons for acting the way they were but I was still frustrated.
HOWEVER. I started to flip through the pages and I realized that there were some surprising twists coming up. So I skimmed and skipped some parts, read the ones the ones that I found interesting- and they were many from that point on.. I was glued in! There was drama, humour, and the characters started to come alive and I found myself so eager to know how the story ended.
It was good! It was really good.
The characters matured and evolved and things started to change. Mellie almost left me with the impression that she was a bit selfish... right until she changed her mind before, ahem, the meeting. ( Don't want to giveaway anything.) Faith flowed easily and beautifully in the story and be still my heart the romance was SO lovely!!
I'm so glad to be giving this four stars. My first read from Sarah Sundin and I'm curious about the next one in this series.
I really love Sundin's books. They're all set during World War II and the best description I can come up with to describe them is "the greatest generation." They're great stories, but it also feels like I'm reading a tribute to the amazing men and women and the brave sacrifices they made to give us the gift of freedom that we enjoy today.
When I read Sarah's first book, A Distant Melody, I considered it one of the best books I had ever read. But she just keeps getting better! Readers who pick up With Every Letter with high expectations will not be disappointed. The characters are unique and well-developed. Both the hero and heroine start out with huge obstacles that threaten to interfere not just with romance, but with their ability to relate to the rest of the world, for the rest of their lives. The stakes are high personally, but also in terms of their contributions to the war effort. Both of them are in positions to save or lose many lives. The research for this novel alone is mind-boggling, as I discovered as I was whisked all over northern Africa. With Every Letter is another home run for Sarah Sundin. If you are interested in World War 2 history, you simply must read this tale. It's sure to satisfy lovers of historical fiction and historical romance everywhere.