“Hitler speaks to Reichstag tomorrow. We just heard the first casualty lists over the radio. … Lots of boys from
Michiganand Illinois. Oh my God! … Life goes on though. We read our books in the library and eat lunch, bridge, etc. Phy. Sci. and Calculus. Darn Descartes. Reading Walt Whitman now.”
This diary of a smart, astute, and funny teenager provides a fascinating record of what an everyday American girl felt and thought during the Depression and the lead-up to World War II. Young Chicagoan Joan Wehlen describes her daily life growing up in the city and ruminates about the impending war, daily headlines, and major touchstones of the era—FDR’s radio addresses, the Lindbergh kidnapping, Goodbye Mr. Chips and Citizen Kane, Churchill and Hitler, war work and Red Cross meetings. Included are Joan’s charming doodles of her latest dress or haircut reflective of the era. Home Front Girl is not only an entertaining and delightful read but an important primary source—a vivid account of a real American girl’s lived experiences.
Joan Wehlen Morrison was a girl of 14 in 1937 when this selection of her diary starts, and it continues through her adolescence until 1943, the year she married. She writes of school assignments, reading, friends, family, boys, world events and the lead up to war and then the reality of it. From her home in
Chicago, the reader sees through Joan a vision of America during wartime as it was ‘at home.’ Her intellectual curiosity, humor and facility with language mark this diary not only as an important historical record, but a superb read as well.
Home Front Girl exists because Joan’s daughter, Susan Signe Morrison, found Joan’s diary amidst her papers after her death in 2010. The book contains a portion of the entries she wrote in the years mentioned, only edited in punctuation and spelling (with a footnote here and there for the reader who doesn’t pick up on allusions or historical events). There are snippets of Joan’s little illustrations, along with photos of her and examples of her writing. Of course, not all diary entries are equal. Joan wrote not only observations, but poetry, philosophical meanderings, calls to her generation – and about lipstick, bridge, and dates. She was a very intelligent girl and then woman, and her mind was an active and beautiful thing, no matter her topic.
A reader cannot help but connect with Joan after only a few pages. She is likeable, remarkably aware and observant, and no more self-obsessed than any other human being. She chronicles her small triumphs and doings with style. Her writing is elegant in stretches, naïve or quirky or snappy in others. Joan’s reactions become the reader’s – her wonder at fresh-fallen snow or beautiful music, pondering the significance of a world event, seeing a film, recording her dreams.
While I think Joan’s diary is an important primary source (a first-person historical account), I think it is more interesting as literature. I hope it will be read as a coming-of-age account during a historically significant moment. And as a side note, my favorite entries were the ones written around Christmas each year (perhaps that’s inevitable as we are ourselves in the holiday time now).
Recommended for: anyone who has wanted to get inside the head of an American young person during WWII, and those who enjoyed The Diary of Anne Frank.
------Would you like to win a copy of Home Front Girl? The publisher has kindly offered one hardcover copy to a reader with a US mailing address. If you'd like to enter, simply fill out the FORM. Giveaway will end on December 27th at 11:59pm EST. Winner will be selected randomly and notified via email, book will be mailed by publisher. Good luck!
Fine print: I received a copy of Home Front Girl for review from IPG and Chicago Review Press. Giveaway book provided by the same. I received no compensation for this post.