Viking/Penguin March, 2019, 500 pages
Aphrodite, immortal goddess of beauty, is caught in an elegant WWII hotel by her husband Hephaestus with Ares, the God of war. Hephaestus puts the lovers on trial and Aphrodite shares a story of other lovers from the previous world war to win her angry husband over. As she tells her tale Hades and Apollo also join the party and alternating chapters go from one time to the previous. During WWI we trace the very different experience of all four young people as their lives intersect and intertwine, narrated by Aphrodite and sometimes Hades. James is a young British soldier who meets Hazel, the piano player at a dance in London. The two spark an instant connect that continues even after James is sent to the front to become a sharp shooter and Hazel joins a group of female volunteers in France. It is here that she befriends Colette, who has lost her entire family in Belgium. A singer, Colette meets Aubrey, an African American ragtime piano player from New York City. The two musicians collaborate and eventually fall in love, which does not sit well with the southern white soldiers of the segregated WWI army. An attack on Aubrey results in his disappearance and the separation of the both couples, as James is sent to the front, wounded and shell shocked and out of Hazel's reach. Will true love find a way or are these young people destined for loneliness amidst the violent backdrop of the devastating war? Will Hephaestus come to forgive Aphrodite? All is revealed by book's end.
Julie Berry is, in my humble opinion, the best teen writer currently producing new material. All the Truth That’s in Me is so tightly written and sophisticated that I didn't quite get it, although I loved it. The Passion of Dolssa was also brilliant and I understood it better, yet the medieval setting is not necessarily teen-friendly. This latest novel, set to be released next month, is up to her exquisite standards, yet is more readable and will be enjoyed by teenagers-as well as adults. The story within a story is less confusing than it sounds and adds a rich layer to the telling. Chapters are clearly marked by the date, as well as the narrator, to further alleviate confusion. Although there are many books set during WWII, the first war is more unusual. Berry clearly did her research, depicting the war in Europe, while also highlighting the African American experience and contribution to the war effort. Young readers will experience this time through the eyes of other sympathetically portrayed young people, who are thrust into a crazy situation, yet manage to find love and healing. Readers will be cheering for both the young couples and Berry, though not pulling everyone through without some scars and baggage, give us a reassuringly happy ending. There are some very graphically violent bits (this is war after all) making it not appropriate for younger teens or sensitive readers. The cover is beautiful and will attract readers. The book is long, yet reads quickly and moves rapidly. I have a short attention span, yet devoured it and was sorry when it ended. I am assuming Penguin will cross market to adults as well as teens, because it deserves a place on both shelves.