Goodreads: Lovely War
Publication Date: March 2019
Caught with Ares in a net, Aphrodite begins spinning a tale for her husband, a tale of two romances during WWI. Hazel is a shy pianist. James is an aspiring architect heading off to the front. A chance encounter brings them together, but war may drive them apart. Meanwhile. Aubrey is a ragtime musician heading off to fight in France. And he has fallen for Colette, a Belgian girl with a tragic past. Both couples long to be reunited when the war ends, but all of them know that hope fades fast in the trenches.
Lovely War is a beautiful, evocative romance, one that explores how the stress of war affects the lives of the young. Hazel is a quiet pianist who dreams of attending conservatory, but finds herself serving as a volunteer entertainer in France. James is an aspiring architect who faces the destruction of all his dreams in the trenches. Collette is a Belgian volunteer trying to find meaning in life after the deaths of her family. And James is ragtime musician dreaming he might find more respect as a soldier than he found as a Black man in the U.S. Their paths cross during the war and they quickly form strong connections. But they are always faced with the reality that everything beautiful could end in a moment.
Although set primarily during WWI, the book shies away from some of the dark moments. Death, dirt, and destruction are present, as is the constant racism James experiences as he tries to prove to his country that he is a soldier and a man. Still, Wilfred Owen would perhaps not recognize this war, which always feels a little like it is being held at a distance. The story is narrated largely by Aphrodite (with some help from Ares and others) and her concern is the romance, not the war. Her interest in the fighting extends only so far as it affects the lives of the couples she wants to bring together.
Ultimately, Lovely War becomes a story about the power of love to accept others, even when they feel they are broken. Each of the characters is changed by the war and each begins to think, at some point, that they are no longer worth loving. Aphrodite’s tale challenges the idea that only the strong, the brave, and the beautiful deserve romance.
Fans of historical fiction and of romance alike will be spellbound by this enchanting story. It focuses on the characters, drawing readers into the everyday moments that ultimately make life worth living. A gem among YA novels.