BAND OF SISTERS - Lauren Willig
Kate Moran never felt that she fit in with the rest of the girls at Smith College. Attending thanks to a scholarship, Kate's humble beginnings are difficult to compare to the wealthy families who have sent their privileged daughters to the elite school. But now, Kate has graduated, and she lives in a boarding house and tries to teach French to rich girls. Then her former best friend from Smith, Emmie Van Alden, convinces her to join the group of Smith graduates to sail to France to help with the war effort. It's only when she arrives pier side does Kate realize that she may have made a poor decision. She still doesn't fit in. And then she finds out that Emmie's cousin, Julia, is one of the women doctors assigned to the unit. Julia, who referred to Kate as a "charity case".
The Smith College Relief Unit arrival in France isn't exactly what the girls expected. Their leader, Mrs. Rutherford, had arranged for a hotel in Paris to house them while the group gathers supplies, and loads their three trucks for the trip to their assigned village. But the hotel doesn't have enough rooms, so half of the girls scrounge for room in the attic, supplies are not readily available, and their trucks are still at the pier in boxes, waiting for someone to put them together. Kate, one of the group's chauffeurs, and some of the other girls end up at the pier, constructing the trucks, while others fan out across the city to find various supplies. It takes them a while, but soon they are on the road to Grecourt, a small town in the Somme region. Again, all isn't how they imagined it to be as there is nothing there but a bombed-out estate building, and the villagers living in inadequate shelters. The girls get to work, putting together their portable barracks buildings, sorting out the various animals (chickens, cows, and goats), and, mostly, making do with what they have.
Imagine seventeen young women who have, for the most part, never done anything more strenuous than playing tennis. None of them were remotely prepared for the hardships they had to endure as they dealt with starving, scared, and homeless families, the actual war literally a few miles away, not to mention seventeen women who barely know each other learning how to work together. Not everyone is happy with Mrs. Rutherford, not everyone gets along with their roommates, and yet, somehow, a semblance of order emerges as they slowly realize that they are the local villagers' only hope. Emmie plans projects and games for the children, Kate drives the doctors and others to the surrounding towns, and even the grumpiest girls understand the importance of their arrival. Their ultimate goal is to get the villagers to help themselves, once the Smith ladies get everything started. Nothing goes smoothly, and many mistakes are made. Can they pull together for the sake of the mothers and children?
BAND OF SISTERS is classic Lauren Willig. Based on the real Smith College Relief Unit, Willig has diligently researched, and brilliantly presented a glorious tribute to these remarkable women. Each woman has their own secrets, hidden hurt feelings, or old rivalries that they need to deal with. The characters are so well-drawn that readers will feel their hurts, their confusion, and be impressed by their bravery. Do read the author's notes at the end of the novel. From her Pink Carnation books to BAND OF SISTERS, Lauren Willig cannot be beat. Enjoy this fantastic book.