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Must-read: Next to Love by Ellen Feldman

Ellen Feldman brings the mid-1900s to life through the stories of three women profoundly affected by World War II and the torrent of social, economic and technological changes that followed.

Like many young women in the months after Pearl Harbor, Babe, Millie and Grace feel the pressure to Next to Lovemarry their sweethearts before they go off to war. Although the three have been lifelong friends and live in a small New England town, they are from different backgrounds with different expectations of how their adult lives will unfold. When the tragedies of war shatter their remaining childhood dreams, the women must break new trails, looking for self-fulfillment, love and happiness in the postwar world.

In Next to Love, Ellen Feldman concentrates on how World War II affected the lives of those who were left behind. Babe, Millie and Grace represent three of many possible outcomes for women who came of age in the early 1940s, and Feldman vividly captures the mood of the war years, including women in the workforce and the fear of getting a War Department telegram.

The effects of World War II, of course, didn’t stop on VJ Day, and the three friends, indelibly scarred by heartbreak, struggle to keep up with a rapidly changing postwar world. Feldman follows Babe, Millie and Grace through to 1964, focusing on how they were broken and then healed by life’s experiences and their enduring friendship.

Book clubs will find a lot to talk about after reading Next to Love, such as post-traumatic stress syndrome, the feminist movement, civil rights, upward economic mobility, motherhood, widowhood and the effects of modern technology. Through Babe, Millie and Grace, Feldman reminds us of the strength of our mothers and grandmothers and the turbulent times they endured.

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