While We’re Far Apart by Lynn Austin wasn’t on my radar, but I saw it on a clearance table and seemed to remember it had been favorably reviewed by a few other bloggers I read, so I picked it up. I’m glad I did.
The WWII-era story is told from three points of view. Esther’s family is reeling from the loss of their mother in an accident when they receive a second blow: news that their father, Eddie, in his grief, decided to enlist. Esther’s anguish in just the first few pages is palpable.
Eddie had counted on his mother to watch his children while he is at war, but she is unwilling and not really able. But neighbor Penny volunteers to. Penny has been quietly in love with Eddie for years. Though she’s sad at the family’s loss, she hopes eventually Eddie will notice her. Her elderly parents strongly disapprove: they’ve rarely let her out of the house, constantly berated her lack of “sense,” and are deathly afraid of strangers, especially those in the Jewish section of Eddie’s neighborhood.
Jacob Mendel is the family’s Jewish landlord, grieving the loss of his wife in the same accident that took Eddie’s wife, angry and withdrawn from his synagogue as well as God Himself, anxious for news from his son’s family in Hungary who are right in the path of Hitler’s advancing army.
Lynn masterfully weaves together the threads of these lives and puts faces on the various aspects of WWII as Esther resents Penny, begins receiving attention from neighboring teen, Jack, and deals with a serious problem with her brother. Penny discovers that taking care of children isn’t easy and doesn’t necessarily garner the attention of their father, but venturing out into the unknown world broadens her horizons. She finds she’s more capable than her parents gave her credit for, but she also begins to unearth secrets that may turn her own world upside down. Mr. Mendel reluctantly opens his heart just a crack for Esther as they both deal with God’s seeming silence.
Lynn’s descriptive phrasing enhances the story as well. “‘You–what!’ Grandma exploded like a shaken soda bottle.” “His words gave Esther the same empty, floating feeling she’d had after Mama died, as if she were a fluff of dandelion, no longer tethered to the earth.”
I was pulled in on the first pages, ached and rejoiced along with the characters, and was reluctant to leave them at the end.
(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)