Title: Long Way Home
Author: Lynn Austin
Major Themes: World War II, Holocaust, PTSD, Friendship
Synopsis: When her strongest ally and best friend from childhood comes back from war with PTSD, Peggy Serrano must figure out how to help him recover to help put his family back together again.
I’ve enjoyed Lynn Austin’s books for years, so when I saw Long Way Home coming out, I knew I wanted to read it, too. I was especially interested in this one because I had previously read If I Were You and Chasing Shadows, the former set in World War II England, the latter in World War II Netherlands. Long Way Home is set in post-World War II US, and somehow, it feels like it completes this unofficial series. I don’t know if she will choose to explore other areas of the world in this era, but I do know that each of these books is an excellent, vastly diverse portrayal of real people’s experiences during and after the war. If I Were You dealt with the changing of women’s roles and nursing the wounded as the war commenced, Chasing Shadows shared the struggles and triumphs of people in the Dutch Underground working to save the Jews as the war went on, and Long Way Home now shows the return of the soldiers who were dealing with PTSD, and how their families and friends tried to help them. I had high expectations when I cracked open the pages of this book, and I wasn’t disappointed!
Peggy Serrano hasn’t had an easy life growing up. Mistreated at school and almost ignored at home, her only lifeline was the boy across the street, Jimmy, who protected her and taught her to trust God. Now, she can’t wait for him to get home from the war and start working with him in his family’s veterinary business again. But the Jimmy who comes back from the war is almost unrecognizable compared to the Jimmy who left. What happened to him? When the unthinkable happens and Jimmy is sent to the VA hospital to recover, Peggy is determined to figure out what’s wrong and help him heal.
Meanwhile, seven years earlier, Gisela Wolff and her family flee Germany aboard the passenger ship St. Louis, hoping to get to hope and a better life away from the rising tide of criticism against their people. When the ship is denied safe harbor, however, and no one wants to take them in, they’re sent back to Europe and try to set up a life for themselves in Belgium. But what will happen to her family and the man she loves when the Nazis invade Belgium? Is there any safe place for them?
I admire Lynn Austin for diving into the more difficult topics. I haven’t read many books that deal with PTSD, so seeing it here was refreshing—sad and uncomfortable at times, but refreshing. It’s something that a lot of people deal with, but few know how to put it into words or know what to do to help others recover. PTSD victims aren’t only soldiers who go to war; many different people from many walks of life have suffered trauma and have had to deal with it later on. With the focus on this not-so-often-talked-about subject, this book really shines, and that’s why I’m so glad I got to read it. Even if I never meet someone with PTSD, I do meet people who are trying to recover from very difficult, hurt-filled places in their past—and my hope is that books like this will help me to empathize with them better.
The story surrounding the Jews’ plight on the St. Louis was one I was unfamiliar with, so having that going on alongside the search for hope and healing was an intriguing twist. It’s heartbreaking to think how often people have desperately needed help, but help was denied—or their pleas were outright ignored.
Long Way Home was difficult. It was also beautiful. The way certain characters loved and cared for others—even in situations where it may have been much easier to turn away and deal with their own problems—was just amazing. The hopelessness and despair some people faced right after the war was quite evident here, and overall, I feel like this was an excellent portrayal of what it may have been like for a lot of people as they endured World War II and started rebuilding their lives afterward. Even though I struggled to get through this book a little more than some of Austin’s other books (my problem, not hers; I had a lot of distractions at the time), I thoroughly enjoyed the read, and am looking forward to whatever Lynn Austin comes out with next.
I was given a review copy of this book, and this is my honest opinion of it.
WARNING: Throughout the book, there are references to one of the characters trying to commit suicide (never described, just mentioned), the main character’s father has a live-in girlfriend, and people drink beer somewhat regularly and sometimes get drunk. Throughout the first half of the book, a young unmarried couple often hold each other or kiss (not described in a lot of detail). Near the end of the book, there is a discussion about a marriage of convenience that was in name only, had been annulled, and now one of the partners was going to get married again.
Kristallnacht is described to some extent in ch. 2. In ch. 3, a man describes losing his leg in war, seeing a friend who had been blown apart, and has a nightmare. In ch. 4, someone dies and has to be buried out at sea, and someone else jumps overboard to commit suicide. In ch. 6, there are mentions of two people who try to commit suicide—one succeeds. There is a bombing raid in ch. 10, and another one is described in ch. 11. Something similar to Kristallnacht is described again in ch. 12. There is more bombing in ch. 16, and the aftermath is described to some extent. In ch. 18, a character finds out relatives “chose to die together rather than be taken.” There is a brief description of what went on inside a concentration camp in ch. 18. Someone tells of a boy who died in ch. 22, and someone tells about his terrible nightmares in ch. 26.
Darn and blasted are used in ch. 3, golly and “for heaven’s sake” are used in ch. 5, swear is used in ch. 16 and 18, heck is used in ch. 17, goodness is used in ch. 21, and gosh is used in ch. 26. “Go through that hell” or something like that is used a few times, and “God’s honest truth” is used in ch. 23. People lie in ch. 3 and 5.
Reading Independently—Ages 15 and Above, Adults