Secrets of a Charmed Life
Summary: American student Kendra Van Zant meets Isabel McFarland and intends to interview her for a college history assignment. Isabel is an elderly survivor of the London Blitz during World War II. However, the interview becomes increasingly interesting when Isabel reveals that she isn’t actually Isabel at all.
*Warning: the next two sections contain spoilers.*
- The Londoner’s perspective of the Blitz. With as many WW2 books as I have read, this is the first one that centers on the German attack on the civilians of London (minus introductions to books taking place in the country which focus on children who have been shipped out of harm’s way–i.e. The Chronicles of Narnia and The War that Saved My Life.) Meissner puts you right in the middle of the air raids and the aftermath of the destruction.
- The frame story. Honestly, I wasn’t thrilled about Isabel telling her story as a part of a college-student’s history assignment. The whole flashback is a fairly common literary technique (at least in the modern literature I’ve read), and I admit I rolled my eyes a bit when I figured out that’s what was going on again. However, the present-day “bookend” in the final pages and Isabel’s reasons for wanting to tell her story to the public make it work better and complete a tidy ending to a messy life.
What Doesn’t Work:
- The entire section of the book written as letters from Julia. I get that Meissner wanted to keep the fact that Julia is still alive as a secret, but the letters seem like a cop-out. The rest of the novel is so compelling, but the letters leave a lot to be desired. Even though the previous parts of the book have a third-person perspective, they still have much personal insight and really connect the reader to Emmy/Isabel. The letters, despite being written in first person, do not have nearly the emotion and feeling as the prose in the other parts of the novel.
Overall I enjoyed the book and it read quickly. Meissner develops the characters well, writes a believable story, and keeps the action moving quickly (except for that letter part. Yawn.) This is a great book club pick (I missed this month’s meeting) and has a wide reader-appeal. (Kendal, I think you would like this one!) I much preferred this novel to the other of Meissner’s that I have read (The Fall of Marigolds). Sorry for all the parentheticals!
My Rating: B+
- compelling storyline, despite frame story/flashback
- less-than-stellar choice for Part 3
- lovely character development
- historical significance