A mathematician finds her life upended by World War I in this historical novel.

Daly, the author of Pre-Raphaelites in Love (1989), recounts the events that led her protagonist, Evelyn Havilland, away from her Northern California hometown and eventually back home. The book opens in 1919 as Evelyn accompanies her shellshocked cousin, Billy, home from Europe, where he was a nurse during the war. In flashbacks, readers learn of Evelyn’s youth as a mathematical prodigy in a working-class home, where she has a contentious relationship with her mother. She goes on to study at Stanford University and becomes a cryptographer during World War I; along the way, she has a romance with a Boston Brahmin and fellow cryptographer named Arthur Bayard. Evelyn hopes to move to the East Coast to marry him and pursue her own career, but later, her loyalty to her aging parents and to Billy, who’s still suffering from his traumatic wartime experiences, keeps her in California. She takes a job teaching math at her old high school, and although she and Arthur attempt to make their relationship work, he ends up marrying a fellow Bostonian while Evelyn remains single. A later reunion, however, puts lingering questions to rest. Daly does a fine job of capturing her main character’s challenges as she balances familial loyalty and personal independence. (Evelyn is based on the author’s distant relative.) Arthur is a strong romantic foil, and despite what he and Evelyn go through in their relationship, he’s never portrayed as a villain. Even Evelyn’s mother, the most hostile character in the story, is presented sympathetically. The book also ably grapples with the realities of war, particularly when middle-aged Evelyn sees her own students become casualties. Overall, this book is thought-provoking without being excessively contemplative, and the solid plot offers a satisfying resolution.

An enjoyable work that explores one woman’s path to adulthood.

LINK HERE: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/gay-daly/miss-havilland-a-novel/

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