Books

Browsing: Girls star in two WWII-era books

"The Girl Is Murder" by Kathryn Miller Haines (Roaring Brook Press, $16.99, 342 pages, ages 12 and up)

"Queen of Hearts" by Martha Brooks (Farrar Straus Giroux, $17.99, 224 pages, ages 12 and up)

Even during wartime, an awful lot of ordinary life gets lived back home. Babies are born, family members get sick, kids complain about homework, teenagers disobey their parents. Ordinary stuff.

World War II, of course, permeated life like perhaps no other war. Shortages, ration coupons, blackouts and absent family members became part of the environment.

Both of these two new young-adult books are set during WWII, "The Girl Is Murder" in 1942 New York City and "Queen of Hearts" starting in 1940 in Manitoba, Canada. The era doesn't dominate either book, but it does add a level of intensity, especially to "Girl."

Kathryn Miller Haines in "Girl" essentially has crafted a Nancy Drew tale for modern readers, putting a real teenager in a mystery situation grounded in reality. No blue roadster or lawyer father here: Iris Anderson goes to a Lower East Side high school, a comedown from the private all-girls school she attended previously.

What precipitated the change: Her Navy officer father's injury at Pearl Harbor and her German-born mother's suicide just three weeks later. Now her dad, wearing a prosthetic leg, is trying to revive a long-ago career as a private detective. Iris wants to help him, be his legs, but he wants her to stay safe and out of trouble.

Of course, trouble finds Iris. In short order at her new school, her purse is stolen, her manners are sneered at and she meets two important people: Tom, a boy who intrigues her, and Suze, a tough-talking older girl who gives her clothing advice.

Iris is as maddening as any 15-year-old: She lies to impress people, she's stubborn and she can be callous. She's soon up to her ears in a mystery involving Tom, who has gone missing and whose parents hire her father to find him.

Haines doesn't bypass the racism of the era, and she evokes the "no tomorrow" feeling of the young people out on the town, dancing to swing music.

Meanwhile, Marie-Claire, the narrator of "Queen of Hearts," doesn't seem to be going anywhere. She and her two siblings, children of a poor Manitoba farm couple, contract tuberculosis and a re sent off to a sanatorium. Recovery methods are primitive in these days before antibiotics, and cure is not guaranteed.

Martha Brooks grafts two small stories — Marie-Claire's developing friendships with her roommate, Signy, and a young musician, Jack, at the sanatorium — onto the larger family tragedy of the three siblings and their treatments. The children are heartbreakingly real, and the sanatorium staff is as well-drawn as any supporting cast.

  Comments