New York: Harper Teen, 2018 (361 pages)
Maisie McCall is a seventeen-year old girl who decides to leave home (against her parents’ wishes) to join the war effort as a lumberjill. She and her friend Dot train with other ladies of the Women Timber Corps (WTC), and although the blisters and the aches and the fatigue make them feel like giving up and giving in, they keep at it. One evening, the women in the camp get to go to a dance nearby; there, Maisie meets and dances with the very-reluctant John Lindsay. Despite the fact that he stops dancing midway through the song, Maisie can’t help but defend him against her friends’ gossip. When Dot and Maisie complete their training, they are stationed at Auchterblair in Inverness-shire. Dot has gained confidence through first aid training, and Maisie feels stronger now that she’s faced training and distanced herself from her father and mother. To Maisie’s surprise, John Lindsay shows up again; he is working with the Newfoundland Overseas Forestry Unit (NOFU) and together, the NOFU boys and WTC girls work on felling trees and cutting timber. It isn’t long before a romance grows between John and Maisie, but something seems to be holding John back–he’s happy to be with her, but pushes her away just as often, and Maisie, in her youth, is confused by the mixed signals she’s getting. Finally, John reveals that he is missing a leg. Maisie is relieved; of course this explains why he feels uncomfortable when people intimate that he and other members of NOFU are cowards for staying at home. When Maisie attempts to reassure John that it doesn’t matter, she is rebuffed. More confused and hurt than ever, Maisie decides that it’s probably best if she and John call it quits. With a heavy heart, she and a few girls head up the mountain to work, but hear an odd noise. It’s coming from the site of an accident. A logging truck has tipped its load, and two men are trapped beneath the fallen timber. One of the men is John. Maisie must think fast to save John and his friend Elliot. She is helped by her friends; they clear the logs, but one rolls out of control and hits Maisie in the calf, then lands on John. The only way to save him is to remove his wooden leg, which remains trapped beneath the tree. In a harrowing journey, Maisie drives to the nearest hospital. There, John and Elliot receive treatment for hypothermia and other wounds, and Elliot is later transferred to Inverness to receive treatment there. Maisie is relieved to know that John is safe, but he’s reluctant to let her in. Maisie realizes that John’s difficulty may be exacerbated by the fact that he feels helpless, so she goes and recovers his prosthetic leg from the site of the accident. At least he’ll have that, she figures, and maybe that will go a long way to healing him. Before she can return it, John shares his story. He was wounded at Dunkirk, and lost two friends who came back for him to help him to safety. He thinks it’s not only his fault that those two men died, but that Elliot has died as well. John doesn’t want to lose anyone else, so he pushes Maisie away yet again, despite her attempts to relieve his mind of at least the guilt from Elliot’s death — he’s still alive! John won’t hear or can’t hear, and sinks into a depression that Maisie doesn’t believe she can help him from, so she decides that she’s not enough for John. She asks to be reassigned to another camp, and finds out through a letter that John has decided to move on, too. On the eve of her departure, Maisie must see John one last time, to return a book of poems and to hand him a white envelope from the War Office. When she sees John, she’s shocked to find him a shadow of himself; his depression has eaten away at him outside and inside. Maisie apologizes for not being enough, and she hastens to reassure him that what he saw as loss is his own sadness and guilt dragging him down. Not only is Elliot on the mend, he’s sent several letters to John that have gone unanswered. Moreover, the two men that saved him at Dunkirk are alive, but in a POW camp. Maisie leaves John standing there with the letter in his hand. She hopes that he can find happiness, for he truly deserves to be happy. In her new assignment, Maisie struggles to find her own happiness; busyness tends to keep the demons at bay. Then a Christmas surprise arrives. A group of the NOFU boys shows up to wish her a happy Christmas, and among them is Elliot! Then, hiding behind the Christmas tree is John! He’s in uniform, and Maisie is at first infuriated at the thought that he could join the armed forces again; however, John reveals that he and the boys have joined the Home Guard to make themselves even more useful. He has received some treatment from the same hospital that worked with Elliot, and has determined to put his best effort into the healing process. Maisie is, of course, thrilled to have a recovering John back, and the book ends with Maisie and John in Nova Scotia, beginning a new life together. Author Caroline Leech includes a touching memorial to the lumberjills of the WTC, plus some historical reference points.
Tags: Historical fiction, light romance, World War II, WWII, friendship, relationships, war, PTSD, lumberjills