Miss Havilland, A Novel
By Gay Daly
The Sager Group LLC, $15.99, 352 pages, Format: Trade

Star Rating: 4.5 / 5

Evelyn has had a protected and mostly wonderful childhood growing up in San Jose, California, at the beginning of the twentieth century. Her backyard backs up to her aunt and uncle’s house, where her cousin and very best, best friend Billy and his sister Alice live. Evelyn is the light of the life of her father, a sweet man confined to a wheelchair. The only fly in the ointment is Evelyn’s sharp-tongued, demanding, distant, and often cruel mother. Evelyn and her father spend a great deal of time together, he teaching her math, something Evelyn loves. Billy is headed for Stanford for college, but Evelyn’s mother insists the local teacher’s college is the right choice for Evelyn. Her high school math teacher arranges a full scholarship for Evelyn to Stanford, and off Billy and Evelyn go. World War I starts raging in Europe, and although America hasn’t yet joined the war, Billy heads to Europe and volunteers. Soon Evelyn is lured to Washington D.C. to work on breaking enemy codes. It is there she meets Arthur, a wealthy professor from Boston also working in Washington. They fall in love and both end up in Europe through the end of the war, though not together. Evelyn is able to find Billy and visits with him, only to find a man shattered by the experiences he has had. When the war finally ends, when the bombs stop falling and shots stop ringing out, the life Evelyn has been expecting and hoping for is far out of her grasp. She has much she has to do for others before she can reach for what she wants and needs in her life.

Author Gay Daly has written a compelling piece of historical fiction that is based on the true happenings in the life of a relative. Her passion for the subject of her relative’s story is clear, and her careful and extensive research shines through. Told in first-person through Evelyn’s voice (with occasional lapses into other points of view) has a very personal ring. It is much like sitting and listening to an elderly relative tell the story of life. Rich characters with complex lives, characters that will stay with readers for a long time, populate this engaging and memorable story and make for a terrific read. The period around World War I is a fascinating time and not written about with great frequency, so this is a welcome addition for fans of historical fiction.

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