When her best friend announces she’s leaving to volunteer as a nurse in the heart of World War II, Anne Calloway doesn’t hesitate to join her. No matter that Anne is young and nearing her own wedding to a caring if bland sort of man. Seattle will always be home, Anne knows, but the opportunity to join Kitty in Bora-Bora is too exciting to forgo. Plus, everyone is joining up to serve our country — and shouldn’t she try to help the boys out there on the frontlines?
Postponing her nuptials, Anne journeys to Bora-Bora and begins the tiring, emotionally exhaustive work of caring for the men injured in the Pacific Rim. Always the rebellious one, Kitty wastes no time cavorting with the female-starved soldiers on the island. And Anne meets Westry Green, a charismatic and sensitive military man who shows her a seaside bungalow on a secluded strip of beach. With time, Anne’s connection to Westry only deepens — as does the mystery of who has committed a shocking murder nearby. And how Anne is to live with all that transpires.
Sarah Jio’s The Bungalow is a captivating, exciting read set in a tumultuous time in history. As a narrator, Anne is looking back on the events of 1942 through the patina of time. Now an elderly woman, Anne receives a letter from the past that reawakens many dormant thoughts about that sweltering year. At the encouragement of her granddaughter, Anne tells the story of Westry and Bora-Bora — and it’s startling how much of that time still haunts her. As more details are divulged, the past and present collide in some unexpected ways.
So here’s the thing: The Bungalow didn’t hold too many surprises for me. The plot hinges on some rather unbelievable coincidences and very heavy foreshadowing, and I didn’t feel an ounce of the shock I think I was supposed to experience. This typically irks me as a reader — all the obviousness — but you know what? I really liked his book. I read half of it sitting in a cafe, oblivious to all the noise and coffee-mug-clinking around me, then stayed up late to polish it off that same night.
Isn’t it funny how that happens?
As in her first book, The Violets of March, Jio masterfully transports us to a vulnerable point in American history. I was absolutely transfixed by Anne’s story, wondering endlessly how she was going to weigh her passionate love for Westry against the sturdy, dependable affection of Gerard (ack, even his name is so stuffy). Maybe because I was once in love with a Marine (or perhaps because I’m a sucker for first love in general), I definitely gobbled up the lovers’ saga.
Books set during World War II have such a beautiful, nostalgic feel to them, don’t they? Which is so funny, considering it was a war and all. I know my own grandparents wouldn’t necessarily reflect upon that specific time with longing, but I find myself fascinated with that era here in the twenty-first century. Despite the hardships and turmoil, life seemed simpler then. I envied Anne and Westry and the purity of their love — even if their journey was a difficult one.
Historical fiction fans and those with a penchant for romance — me! — will find The Bungalow charming and memorable. I also appreciated that by the end, loose ends were tied together; I’m getting tired of all these open-ended conclusions. I like answers, people. I don’t need to be smacked over the head with the obvious, mind you, but I don’t always enjoy being left to my own devices.
The Bungalow will release in paperback on Dec. 27. Check out the lovely book trailer, too.
4 out of 5!