"It's hard to be a girl sometimes, stuck at school when there is such a great cause to fight for. We do first aid training here every Saturday and Wednesday, and bandage rolling Tuesdays, and making baby clothes for refugees on Friday afternoons. But it isn't like DOING something; it isn't glory or adventure." --Midge Macpherson
With both of her brothers fighting in World War I, Midge wants to do more than study French verbs and embroidery in school. So when her two friends, Anne and Ethel, decide to start a canteen in France to serve cocoa and bread to the soldiers shipping out there, she goes with them. Together they offer a few comforts of home, and a smile, to tens of thousands of English, Australian, and French soldiers. It's not much. And, as Midge soon discovers, it's not an exciting adventure like she thought it would be. It's hard work, heartbreak, and loss. (And also love.)
Jackie French offers a view of World War I from the perspective of the girls who volunteered and fought and served alongside the men. There wasn't much glory in this war, but there were plenty of brave young men and women, each with a story to tell. This book is a tribute to them. As French writes in her author's notes: "This is not a true book, but it is made of true things...Every episode and character in this book is based on the words of those who were there, taken from their letters, diaries, the oral history collected years later...Midge's, Anne's and Ethel's stories are based on the tale of four schoolgirls who really did open a canteen in France."
This book doesn't take place on the front lines; it focuses on the aftermath. It's heartbreaking. And sad. But somehow still hopeful. Ethel, Anne, and Midge are great characters. It's mostly Midge's story, full of the letters she receives from her brothers, from her aunt who's working as a nurse tending to the wounded, and from the young Australian soldiers she meets at the canteen. I loved the way this story was told, even when it made me cry. (And it did make me cry--several times.) This novel is an excellent complement to all the other books written about this stupid and senseless war.
(Special thanks to Brona's Books for recommending this book. I'm so glad I read it!)