Secret of Raven’s Point by Jennifer Vanderbes
Scribner, 2014. Hardcover, 314 pages.
This novel opens in the months before World War II breaks out. Juliet is a science nerd in high school with a close relationship with her older brother, Tuck. After Tuck graduates in May, 1942, he enlists. The novel then fast forwards two years. After Tuck goes missing in Italy in the volatile area around the Volturno River, Juliet opts out of attending college and instead attends an accelerated nursing program and enlists in the Army Medical Corps. Since nearly a year passed between Tuck’s disappearance and Juliet’s enlistment, she focused on learning Italian to ensure she could be posted to Italy (as opposed to the Pacific Theater) and search for her brother.
Once in Italy, nothing goes as planned. Juliet, her fellow nurses, and the doctors perform endless surgery at surgical field hospitals, the precursor of the later MASH units. In fact, some of the described surgeries and leisure activities remind me of what I’ve watched in old M*A*S*H reruns. Then one day they have a patient that comes in with a self-inflicted wound, prompting the appearance of Dr. Willard, a psychologist. Juliet becomes his assistant and they work with Barnaby and it turns out the patient may hold the key to what happened to Tuck.
In all, the book was interesting to read. However, it is not for the faint of heart. The surgical descriptions are pretty gory and I’m afraid at points that may be an understatement. But as the list of resources consulted at the end suggests, they descriptions are likely historically accurate. At points the reader can feel Juliet’s desperation to find her brother and what happens when she reencounters her first crush, her brother’s best friend. And the epilogue was masterfully written. Not only did it tie up all loose ends, it also showed the depth of Juliet and Willard’s relationship and elegantly tied in how each lived out the rest of their semi-intertwined lives.
Note: This was a book I checked out from the library, not a review copy. Yes, I do share those too when I feel strongly about a book. And I do hope to encounter a used copy of this someday to add to my own collection.
FYI: The paperback is due to be released on April 7, 2015, also by Scribner.
12/16/14: This just came via e-mail today. Here’s a link to the book’s official reading group guide.