In an unassuming apartment building in Brooklyn, New York, three lives intersect as the reality of war invades each aspect of their lives. Young Esther is heartbroken when her father decides to enlist in the army shortly after the death of her mother. Penny Goodrich has been in love with Eddie Shaffer for as long as she can remember; now that Eddie's wife is dead, Penny feels she has been given a second chance and offers to care for his children in the hope that he will finally notice her and marry her after the war. And elderly Mr. Mendel, the landlord, waits for the war to end to hear what has happened to his son trapped in war-torn Hungary. But during the long, endless wait for victory overseas, life on the home front will go from bad to worse. Yet these characters will find themselves growing and changing in ways they never expected--and ultimately discovering truths about God's love...even when He is silent.
Lynn Austin's books are chock full of historical fiction goodness. All her books are sweeping sagas wrapped up in one neat little volume. This book is no different as it takes the reader back to 1940s New York City during World War II. Patriotism is at a high and everyone is doing their best to help the war effort. The characters in this story are all affected by the war and it is because of the war that brings them all together.
There is so much to learn about the three main characters in the story: Penny, Esther and Mr. Mendel. They are three unlikely allies and had it not been for Esther's father deciding to go off to war, they would have never connected the way that they did. Each character has been through trials in their life and must move forward. For all of them, it has been a hard task. Through these three, the reader discovers different aspects of life during the time period: a child who's parent is off to war, a Jewish man who is worried about his family still in Europe and a young woman who is doing her duty to help serve at the home front.
What interested me most about the story was the heavy influence that Judaism plays in the story line. There are several Jewish characters and the story mainly takes place in a Jewish neighborhood. There is a lot of talk about Jewish customs and traditions as well as heavy focus on scripture readings from the Torah. Refreshingly, no one is converted in this book which is a big relief. While there is focus on both the Jewish and Christian faiths, there is nothing in the book that screams one religion is better than the other. In fact there are several points in the story where it's shown to the children how both religions are related and can apply to each other. The only thing I didn't really understand was one storyline where a girl is shunned by her Jewish parents for marrying and becoming a Christian. However they are non practicing Jews themselves who had very little to do with the religion. Therefore I really don't understand why if they don't practice it, why do they care so much when she stops following the faith.
At first I could not understand what the deal was with Penny's parents. They were beyond overprotective and to the point of trying to control her life even though she was in her twenties. They really irritated me with how they treated her and some of the things they would say made me very angry. However when the truth is revealed about why they act this way, it makes a lot of sense. As stated in the story, they could have and should have acted differently but instead chose this path instead. Hopefully, Penny is able to break through the shell surrounding her parents in the future and able to create a more loving relationship with them..
The ending was different than from what I was expecting which made the story more wonderful. The entire story was far from predictable. This is a WONDERFUL historical fiction read. It's not a historical romance. While there are glimpses of romance every now and then, the main focus of the book is the historical detail. I really felt as if I had journeyed back to 1940s Brooklyn during the war era. Austin writes with such detail and conviction that I felt as if I was a part of the story myself. It's a wonderful read and one of the most thought provoking reads of the year from me. I really need to go back and read the rest of her books as I'm sure they are just as well written as this one. HIGHLY recommended.
While We're Far Apart by Lynn Austin is published by Bethany House (2010)
This review copy was provided for a blog tour with the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance