Stars Over Clear Lake by Loretta Ellsworth
Thomas Dunne Books, 2017. Hardcover, 320 pages.
Stars Over Clear Lake recounts the fictional love story between a young Iowa farm girl and a German POW during and after World War II. Part of the story is set amidst the famed Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. Told in two storylines, one set in the 1940s and a more recent timeline where the elder Lorraine Kindred reflects on the past, this is Ellsworth’s first adult novel.
Starting in the middle of World War II, Lorraine Kindred’s life is forever changed when her brother leaves for war. Unable to keep up the family farm by himself, Lorraine’s father turns to the local POW camp for assistance, and they provide five German POWs to assist with the farm work. One of those young men is Jens, a German boy who was conscripted but never wanted more than a chance to play his saxophone in a big band. With Lorraine as a budding singer, the two young people come together to form a bond that will be tested time and time again.
In the more modern timeline, Lorraine must face her past. Part of this entails a return to the Surf Ballroom which she once frequented. On that visit, ghosts from the past force a deeply hidden truth forward.
Overall, I have mixed feelings about this novel. At the beginning, a reader could tell that Ellsworth’s previous works were all young adult novels. However, as the novel progressed and Lorraine aged in the historical timeline, the tone changed. There is the star-crossed lovers angle in the story much like in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The historical setting helps to drive the story along with its focus on music and the home front. The driving point of the novel is a coming of age story in which Lorraine must choose between two options, that of following her love and dreams or remaining loyal to her family and its desires.
To me the draw on this novel was the big band angle, not the World War II connection, though the latter, in the end, was stronger. I enjoy big band music quite a lot, especially Glenn Miller. Do you have any recommendations for other novels that feature that era of music? And do you think you will give Stars Over Clear Lake a chance?
This review is based on an advanced reader edition won through a Goodreads FirstReads giveaway.