I have definitely been on a historical fiction kick lately. Not completely by choice, though, and I’m itching to switch it up a little bit. But they’ve been books I was either reading with friends or became available from my holds list. My last book, Lost Roses, was I think the first WWI historical fiction I had read and it just so turned out that this one was too – just from a very different perspective.
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson begins in England 1914, the summer before the country joins WWI. A young woman, Beatrice, has just been hired to be the new latin teacher at the school in the coastal town of Rye, which is unusual at best. She is a single woman whose money is wrapped up in a trust left by her late father and controlled by her vicious aunt. But she is determined to make a life for herself. She arrives in the summer to get settled and tutor some students. She is quickly taken under the wing of Agatha, who went out on a limb to get her hired as the first female in such a desired teaching position, and her two nephews who are staying for the summer.
The summer turns exciting when the town begins taking in Belgian refugees to do their part in the pre-war effort. This of course comes with plenty of drama as the wealthier class shuffles for recognition, not realizing what is coming for England. As the summer rolls on, Beatrice becomes close with Agatha’s two nephews, Hugh and Daniel, who are polar opposites and stir up some drama of their own. Hugh thinks he is in love with his mentor’s daughter and Daniel is a poet and everything is dramatic.
The war eventually comes to England, and Rye, and the end of the book is a whirlwind of battles, both local and abroad. But I won’t give anything away. The book was a little slow at the beginning but redeemed itself. And fair warning, I did cry a little at the end. I’m just glad I wasn’t riding the train when reading it – thanks corona virus! Can’t wait to discuss with my friends!