The Road Home

by Ellen Emerson White
First sentence: “On Christmas morning, Rebecca lost her moral virginity, her sense of humor – and her two best friends.”
Content: This is a book about war, and doesn’t pull any punches. There’s language (with a couple of f-bombs), talk of sex (none actual) and lots and lots of violence. It’s also more emotionally mature. It’d be in the teen section (grades 9 and up) of the bookstore, if it were in print.

This was thrown at me by my wonderful friend Laura, without me knowing much else besides she thought it was really great.

This is the last book of a series about a family (I gathered, not having read any of the others), focusing on the daughter, Rebecca. Her long-time boyfriend was killed in Vietnam and her brother fled to Canada to avoid the draft. So she did the only logical thing: she signed up for a tour. Because it was the 1960s, and because women weren’t allowed to be on the front lines, and because Rebecca has an interest in medicine, she signed up to be a nurse. To say she didn’t know what she was getting into was an understatement. The book follows the second half of her tour in Vietnam, after a horrific event she was involved in, through to her coming home.

It’s taken me quite a while to get through this book, not because it was bad or I was disinterested — neither were true –but rather because it was so emotionally taxing. White knows how to write war. The mundane elements of being out in the field, the stress of the ER when helicopters full of wounded and dying soldiers come in. And then the PTSD of coming home. Especially in the 1960s, when there was so much anti-war sentiment at home. She captured Rebecca’s increasing despair, the difficulty she had in making it through so well, that I was drained each time I picked it up.

That’s not to say there wasn’t hopeful elements to the story: there were. Rebecca makes friends and even has a bit of a relationship But it’s not some miraculous recovery or some “ah-ha” moment. It’s very real, almost brutally so, and very honest.

I found it worth reading (once at least), and while I didn’t love it, I appreciated it. I appreciated the depiction of the soldiers and of Rebecca, and especially of her coming home. It’s not an easy read, but it’s definitely worth the time.

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