The Secret of Raven Point
By Jennifer Vanderbes
(Scribner, Hardcover, 9781439167007, February 11, 2014, 320pp.)
The Short of It:
The Secret of Raven Point is a novel that effortlessly captures the pain and heartbreak of a world at war.
The Rest of It:
When Juliet receives a letter from her brother Tuck, pleading for help and then he goes missing while fighting overseas, Juliet lies about her age so she can volunteer as a nurse. Her hope is to be stationed by him so that she can find him, or at least find out what happened to him. While stationed just north of Rome, she comes in contact with a patient named Christopher Barnaby. Barnaby is awaiting trial for desertion and is suffering from self-inflicted injuries which has rendered him unconscious, but while undergoing a procedure, he briefly mentions Tuck which gives Juliet hope that her brother is still alive.
It’s a horrible thing to admit, but I do not like books about war. I often find them to be depressing and over-worked. But, I loved Strangers at the Feast, which was my first experience reading Vanderbes. That book had nothing to do with war, but I was so impressed with the writing that I couldn’t pass up another opportunity to read her work.
After just a few chapters, I realized that this was not your typical tale of lost love. This story centers around a brother and sister and although there are a few romantic encounters with people that Juliet meets, the book isn’t about them and instead, focuses on the love Juliet has for her brother. This was refreshing to me and not what I expected. Plus, Juliet is quite level-headed for such a young girl. She’s willful and determined and a little stubborn but essentially driven by her need to find Tuck.
As a nurse, she sees the horrors of war first hand. There are numerous amputees and men that are so damaged mentally, that they will never be able to return to the life they once knew. She befriends doctors and nurses and learns from them, but at the same time, becomes worn down from the routine of it all. Desperate to find her brother, she spends much of her time with Christopher Barnaby, the patient who seems to hold the clues to her brother’s whereabouts.
I read to escape, and this book took me to another time and place. The depictions of war are shown through the evidence of its aftermath. You see war, through Juliet’s eyes and it’s heartbreaking to see so many young men lose their lives fighting for a war that they don’t even fully understand. This experience changes Juliet forever and the realization of that, of youth lost, of the memories that she will never be able to shake, is what makes this such a tragic tale. However, the story remains hopeful even to the end.
My one criticism, is that I was taken out of the narrative once or twice during the procedures that Barnaby underwent. I don’t know what went on in those medical tents during the war but I had trouble believing that such a procedure was even possible. That part seemed a little too convenient and I worried about how the story would end, but once I got to those final pages, I was happy to discover a realistic conclusion.
If you haven’t read Vanderbes before, I suggest you give her a try. She has a way of putting the reader right at the heart of the story and although I am sure it takes much skill to do this, she appears to do it effortlessly which makes me admire her all the more.
Source: Sent to me by the publisher/author.
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