It’s 1943. The United States has entered World War Two. Men are off fighting. Women are at home trying to fill the void.
This is the setting in which Camille di Maio places her latest book Until We Meet. The historical fiction novel centers around two friend groups: one training for the war, and one back home—both waiting for the war to be over.
Margaret, Gladys, and Dottie are in New York, taking over the absent men’s jobs (and often, to their surprise, enjoying them!), knitting socks for soldiers, and dreaming of their futures. Margaret’s brother has been deployed, and Dottie is in love with that brother and is secretly carrying his baby. Gladys is the model image of the modern woman in 1944: she doesn’t care for romance or gendered ideology, or anything that doesn’t fit her notion of what it means to be independent. Then there’s John (Margaret’s brother), Tom, and William, training for the war they know they will eventually be sent off to fight in.
In the age of letter writing, Dottie, John, and Margaret all share a pen pal in one another. John, though, feels bad for his friend William, who receives no letters from friends or family and asks his sister to write to William in the hopes of cheering him up. Margaret agrees, and so ensues a tangled story of friendship, love, and identity.
Eventually we come to be most closely tied with Margaret and Tom. Tom, who is now writing letters to Margaret in William’s stead, but still signing those letters, William. And Margaret who is eagerly awaiting the return of the men but also already lamenting the day she will have to give up her welding job at the navy yard to those same men. The story continues to gather speed, leaving readers reeling for Tom to come clean and for Margaret to stand strong and grab hold of the future she wants.
Until We Meet shows the strength of friendship, particularly female friendship and the way the women at home support and lift one another up. This is a time of change for women, and some of the women are more open than others to that change. Dottie wants a typical life of the stay-at-home mother, Gladys wants anything but, and Margaret, for the first time in her life, stands somewhere in between. While Dottie and Gladys feel sure in their dreams and feelings about independence and lifestyle, Margaret feels there is no place for someone like her: someone who does want a family but also wants a career and her own passion. This is something Margaret struggles with throughout the novel, trying to rationalize to herself how it could work, what she’s entitled to, and what it means to be a woman in the 1940s.
Much of the novel is told epistolary form, and these letters are often the most engaging sections of Until We Meet. Watching a relationship unfold between two characters who have never met is a hard move to pull off and has the corollary feel of online dating today. Do you know someone you haven’t met? Can you love someone you’ve only met through words? What changes about a person on the page, or today on the screen?
In these two ways, Di Maio draws a nice corollary to how things in the 1940s were in some ways radically different, and in others almost a shadow image of the world we live in now. Women still struggle with the question of whether to stay home and raise a family, go to work, or juggle both. Love and friendship is, now more than ever, blooming in a space our bodies can’t reach.
A romantic and engaging novel, Until We Meet weaves a carefree sentiment with tough subject matter to offer a thoroughly enjoyable read. Di Maio does a fantastic job of painting the challenges present for both men and women at the time and portraying characters that embody each these changes in and challenges.
Until We Meet was released by Forever, an imprint of Grand Central Publishing owned by Hachette Book Company Group, Inc., in March 2022. You can purchase a copy of Until We Meet at your local independent bookstore.
Read more historical fiction reviews on Centered on Books.
FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.