Title: The Girls They Left Behind
Author: Bernice Thurman Hunter
Published: March 2005
Published By: Fitzhenry & Whiteside
Format Read: Trade Paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult, Canadian Fiction
Date Read: May 13, 2016
In the summer of 1943, seventeen year old Beryl (or Natalie as she would prefer to be called) began to write in a diary she named Dolores. A regular event has been seeing off local boys with a hug, kiss and promise to write at Union Station as they head off to war. However none of these departures could compare to saying goodbye to her cousin and best friend Carmen. Natalie describes life in war-time Toronto, attending dances with servicemen, seeing newsreels about invasions and reading lists with the names of those who would not return. She would join the war effort working first at The John Ingalls Company making machine guns, then for De Havilland making Mosquitoes.
I was first introduced to Bernice Thurman Hunter’s books in elementary school with her trilogy about a young girl growing up in Toronto during the Great Depression. “Booky” instantly became one of my favourite books. However it wasn’t until recently that I came across The Girls They Left Behind after all these years. While I do plan to purchase a copy for my own at some point, I couldn’t wait to read it especially after I saw it on the shelf at my local library.
In The Girls They Left Behind, Natalie is feeling left behind as the boys she grew up with are sent away to war. The author wrote this story with her own memories from that time period in mind. Fortunately young women of the past several generations haven’t had to deal with losses of the magnitude from Thurman Hunter’s generation. Though I felt that she wrote the character of Natalie with traits that girls of today could still relate to.
The most enjoyable part of this book for me was the cultural and setting references from that time. Including the fashion, responsibilities, family dynamics and more specifically the locations around the city. It gave a quick glimpse of life in Canada during the turbulent years of war. The diary and letter style format made for a fast and enjoyable read.
Unfortunately Bernice Thurman Hunter was in the middle of writing Natalie’s story when she passed away in 2002. Her daughter Heather Anne Hunter would complete writing it in her honor and I believe she would be proud of how it all came together.
The Girls They Left Behind is young adult fiction, but I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in historical fiction focusing on the home front during wartime.