Book Review: Lovely War (2019)

Lovely War by Julie Berry

The title of the Washington Post review of this young adult saga was “The novel you’ll want to steal from your teen’s nightstand.” I think that about sums it up. Julie Berry’s book is a sweeping piece of historical fiction with meticulously researched details about World War I. Like many pieces about this era (and in the YA genre in general), it is an engrossing story of love and loss.

The central plot involves two romances: the more traditional love story of Hazel and James (both are young and British), and another involving Aubrey (he’s an African-American soldier and musician) and Colette (a scarred survivor of a German massacre in her small Belgian town.) Eventually their lives and their love all intertwine.

But there’s a third romance that provides the over-arching structure (and a reason) for the look back at the stories of these four characters and how they came through the Great War. The chapters about James, Hazel, Aubrey, and Colette are regularly interrupted by chapters set in 1942 in a New York hotel room, where the Greek goddess Aphrodite (the goddess of love), her husband Hephaestus (the god of fire and forges), and Ares (the god of war, and Aphrodite’s paramour) are all trying to sort out their own stories. Aphrodite takes credit for the central love stories of the novel; but also uses them to explain her infidelity to her husband, because of course, love and war are eternally drawn together.

The classical thread was my least favorite part of the book. Lovely War would be a well-plotted, nicely paced love story with rich historical details even without this added layer. Nonetheless, it’s a great read. I consumed the 450 pages, mostly during a single snowy afternoon.

Review by Roberta Jordan, Outreach and Instruction Librarian

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