The author, Marty Steere, kindly provided me with a copy of his book.
Two extraordinary characters. One unforgettable love story.
In the spring of 1941, young Jon Meyer’s family dies in a tragic accident, and he is sent to live in a small Indiana town. He arrives to find himself unwanted and shunned.
Mary Dahlgren is the mayor’s daughter. A pretty girl, she could have the pick of the boys in town, including Vernon King, the star of the vaunted high school basketball team. To the chagrin of her friends, though, Mary has always been more interested in books than boys. That is, until she meets Jon.
But Jon and Mary are kept apart through the efforts of Mary’s father, who perceives their relationship a threat to his political aspirations, and Vernon, to whom Jon is a rival for Mary’s affections. For months Jon is subjected to a painful ostracism. Then, just when the young man’s earnestness and perseverance begin to win over many of the townsfolk, and it appears that love may conquer all, tragedy strikes.
As the country is caught up in war, so too are the young lovers swept up in events beyond their control, leaving both fighting for their very lives. If, against the odds, they are to be together, each will need to find the strength, the courage and the resourcefulness that beat only in a defiant heart.
I didn’t have any real expectations when I started reading this book, because to me it wasn’t quite clear what exactly it was going to be about. So two things could happen: I could either be left disappointed, or I could be in for a pleasant surprise. Fortunately for me it was the latter, because I really enjoyed this book. It tells the story of sixteen-year-old Jon who, after being the only one in his family to survive a disastrous accident, is sent to live with his grandmother, whom he has never met before, in the small town of Jackson, Indiana. While he’s trying to cope with the loss of his parents and brother he has to find his way in an unfamiliar town, all the while dealing with his grandmother who gives him the cold shoulder and prefers to acknowledge his existence as little as is humanly possible.
Soon after his not quite successful start at his new school things take a turn for the worse when word gets out that Jon is Jewish. It’s 1941 and as America is about to be sucked into WWII people are wary of Jews. Not only is he treated as a pariah at school, he also gets fired from his job at the local hardware store because of his religion. Luckily his life isn’t all bad, and by accident he meets Ben, a man of middle age who used to be in the army and whose hobby it is to fly his own private plane. He takes a liking to Jon and teaches him how to fly, something Jon appears to have a talent for.
Next to his flying lessons he also finds the time to fall in love with Mary, the mayor’s daughter. He explicitly forbids the two of them to be in contact with each other but in spite of this, Jon and Mary keep seeing each other. They manage to keep their relationship under wraps for a few months until things go very wrong.
Jon gets accused of a crime he didn’t commit, and Mary is severely wounded and ends up in a coma. Mary’s father, who is trying to make his big break in politics, doesn’t want to be associated with a crime involving a Jew, so rather than standing trial Jon is forced to enlist in the army. At only 17 years of age his life suddenly becomes a lot more interesting, but also a lot more dangerous. But the question is: will Jon and Mary find their way back to each other?
What I really liked about this book is that it’s not a typical romantic, and somewhat soppy love story. On the contrary, for the best part of the novel the relationship between Jon and Mary isn’t even a very prominent factor. You see a boy change into a man over the course of two years, and it is very interesting to see how he develops and keeps it together even in the most difficult of circumstances. Another thing that I liked is that Mary isn’t a stereotypical girl; she isn’t shallow or vain, she doesn’t really care about clothes or boys, but is very smart and hard working and is determined to make her own way in the world. She’s independent and free-thinking, and that’s what I like about her.
You can tell that this story is well researched because it’s very detailed, both with regards to the war and with regards to aviation. The characters are interesting and well developed, and once you get into the story it’s difficult to put down.
Marty Steere has managed to write a beautiful love story that even people like me who don’t like romantic novels will enjoy very much. I can recommend it to anyone who loves a good love story, a bit of mystery, and a fair amount of history.