Title: The Secret of Raven Point
Author: Jennifer Vanderbes
Release Date: February 4, 2014
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Teenager Juliet Dufresne, along with her brother Tucker, has watched the unfolding events in Europe with shock and horror. The advance of the Nazis seems far away from the United States, but both wish they could do something to help. That all changes when the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor and suddenly, America finds itself at war. Tucker quickly enlists and is shipped out; Juliet looks forward to his letters, which grow increasingly cryptic as the months pass. Then Juliet’s family receive word that Tucker is missing in action. Determined to find out what happened to Tucker, Juliet enrolls in nursing school and sets her sights on the front lines, to the last place from which Tucker wrote.
The Secret of Raven Point is a sometimes-difficult look at the horrors of a hospital during World War II. Juliet’s determination to find Tucker is admirable, as is her devotion to the soldiers in her care. Vanderbes balances all the elements of this gripping novel well; readers will be utterly transported by this hard, yet satisfying, novel.
War novels are difficult; I don’t often pick them up because they can be so hard to read, so graphic and miserable. But I’m a huge fan of Jennifer Vanderbes, so I was determined to read The Secret of Raven Point, no matter how hard it was. And I’m not going to sugarcoat it: this novel is gut twisting at times. Juliet is a nurse on the front lines of a brutal, unforgiving war. So many soldiers are wounded and need her care. Vanderbes does a great job conveying the horrors Juliet must face on a daily basis without turning this novel into something gruesome. Despite its horrific elements, this novel still manages to retain a quiet, noble beauty.
Juliet is, quite simply, an amazing main character in The Secret of Raven Point. It’s easy to forget how young she is, as she’s aged so prematurely by her situation. She’s smart, determined, resourceful, and so courageous. It’s Juliet’s relationships with the people around her—Tucker, Dr. Willard, Barnaby, her fellow nurses, and more—that really make this novel. Vanderbes has an unnerving ability to peer deep into the human soul and write what she sees. These people, these situations, these relationships seem so real. It’s difficult to pull yourself out of the narrative and remember that what’s happening is purely on the pages of a book.
There’s an element of mystery in The Secret of Raven Point in regard to what happened to Tucker and how Barnaby is related to the situation. Vanderbes writes this tension well, especially as she factors in the psychological toll of warfare. It’s an unnatural thing, to brutally kill your fellow man, and the things this soldiers must endure are enough to break them. Through Barnaby and the other soldiers Juliet treats, Vanderbes tells an entirely separate story, one of an entire generation of young men broken by war. It’s a horrible thing to face, but Vanderbes tells it so well.
There are many disparate parts that make up The Secret of Raven Point and Vanderbes writes them flawlessly. She weaves all of this social commentary, history, and character development into one fluid narrative that will hook readers from the very first page. It’s rare that literary fiction is this compulsively readable; it’s something that Vanderbes has done well in the past, and this wonderful novel is no exception.
Other books by Jennifer Vanderbes: