The War Librarian

Putnam. Aug. 2022. 384p. ISBN 9780593328064. pap. $17.
Armstrong’s second novel (after The Light of Luna Park) is a dual-timeline story of strong women. Kathleen Carre, plebe in the first class of women admitted to the Naval Academy in 1976, and World War I volunteer librarian Emmaline Balakin, who, along with the books she orders and selects for them, delivers empathy and encouragement to hospitalized troops, are connected. The link is Kathleen’s grandmother’s war service. Both suffer ostracism and worse for standing up for themselves and their principles. Kathleen, the determined, groundbreaking plebe, annoys her already-resentful male colleagues and commanders by outdistancing them in running and by befriending one of her few Black classmates; Emmaline, the shy, reclusive former clerk in the Dead Letter Office, offers comfort to Black as well as white patients by creating a mixed book group. They also share a passion for fairness, and a drive for justice that sets them apart from their peers and threatens their dreams and their lives. They both find what they truly set out to do and make the intimate connections they sought to avoid.
VERDICT Armstrong’s dark and disturbing tale of prejudice, discrimination, determination, and bravery will resonate with readers caught up in the same issues today.
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