Perseverance and Love during World War II
Book reviewer extraordinaire, Ruth Anderson, is back with us today!
Ruth is a fellow LifeWay co-worker that enjoys Christian fiction as much as I do. She pops up in from time to time to catch us up on what she’s been reading. She just finished the latest Sarah Sundin novel, Anchor in the Storm. Part of me doesn’t want to read her review because I haven’t read the book yet. I’m afraid of spoilers! I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series, Through Waters Deep so I’m looking forward to book two in the Waves of Freedom series.
Before Ruth comes, let’s take a look at this new book:
In a time of sacrifice, what price can one put on true love?
Nothing slows Lillian Avery down–not her personal challenges and certainly not America’s entry into World War II. She finally has a chance to prove herself as a pharmacist in Boston. The demands of her new job energize her. But society boy Ensign Archer Vandenberg’s attentions only annoy–even if he is her brother’s best friend.
During the darkest days of the war, Arch’s destroyer hunts German U-boats in vain as the submarines sink dozens of merchant ships along the East Coast. Still shaken by battles at sea, Arch notices his men also struggle with their nerves–and with drowsiness. Could there be a link to the large prescriptions Lillian has been filling?
As the danger rises on both land and sea, the two must work together to answer that question. But can Arch ever earn Lillian’s trust and affection?
Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States finally enters the world conflict – and after the sinking of their destroyer, Jim Avery invites his fellow ensign and best friend Archer Vandenberg to use his remaining survivor’s leave to visit his family in Ohio, before both are called to service. As the only child of wealthy parents, Arch never enjoyed the benefits of a large, boisterous family – the teasing, camaraderie, and most of all, the sense of belonging. And since the sinking, Arch craves an anchor more than ever, as his brush with death has robbed him of the security and confidence he once held in his career. Jim’s sister Lillian could be just the distraction he needs from his shot nerves and shaking hands, but in a sharp departure from Arch’s normal interaction with members of the opposite sex, she refuses to give Arch the time of day. Despite her prickly demeanor, Arch finds himself irresistibly drawn to her independent spirit, sure that if he could win the affection of a woman like Lillian, he’d have finally found someone who could love him for himself and not his family’s wealth.
A childhood accident may have robbed Lillian of a leg, but since then she has worked to prove that her lack of a limb is no impediment to her ability to succeed, determined to be judged on her merits alone. And with a new job at a Boston pharmacy, she has no time for men who would seek to control her, especially golden men like Arch, whose looks and resources surely preclude an association with a broken woman like herself. Determined to make herself indispensable to her new boss, Lillian throws herself into her work, intent on proving her worth as a pharmacist in a male-dominated field. As the danger from U-boat attacks on the east coast escalates, so do issues of combat fatigue and nerves, a growing problem Lillian sees reflected in suspiciously large, regular prescriptions for Phenobarbital tablets. In spite of her decision to keep Arch at arm’s length, they are both equally invested in stopping the unchecked use of the highly addictive barbiturate. As the investigation deepens, the dangers rise and so do unexpected feelings for the handsome ensign. If a dangerous drug ring doesn’t derail the promise of romance, will Lillian and Arch’s past wounds blind them to the possibility romance between such opposites?
Anchor in the Storm picks up immediately following Jim and Mary’s story in Through Waters Deep, shifting the focus to the aristocratic Archer Vandenberg and his to date hopeless search for a woman capable of seeing beyond his family name and wealth, and loving him for himself – the man who desires nothing more than to forsake the privileged lifestyle his heritage entitles him to in order to serve his country. I confess that Arch’s rather neurotic views of women and money – no matter how legitimately earned – cracked me up a bit, as throughout this novel and its predecessor, I wanted nothing more than to remind Arch that yes, you may be nice, but you are not all that and a bag of chips. *wink* That said, it was a joy to finally see him meet his match in Lillian, a woman who wants nothing to do with romance, choosing instead to focus on succeeding in a career in a male dominated field rather than risk her heart once again.
Both Arch and Lillian, though a study in opposites, are used to being judged on their association with items beyond their control – for Arch, his family name and wealth, for Lillian, her prosthesis, forever marking her body as not quite whole. I love how Sundin isn’t afraid to write characters that are not always nice and that can be, frankly, somewhat unlikable or frustrating – but one cannot help but lose oneself in such a raw, honestly sketched portrayal of the best and worst in human nature. While both Arch and Lillian have trust issues, Lillian especially grapples with the temptation to shut herself away from the world when hurt, and in so doing somehow prove “worthy” and capable of sustaining her hard-won independence. Her character arc is a study in the importance of relational community. Accepting help, admitting hurt, forgiving another – all those are marks of strength, but a strength that comes from the realization that in her weakness, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual, there is strength through faith in God’s unfailing provision (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Once again Sundin focuses on the homefront war experience, this time using her own professional experience as a pharmacist to explore combat fatigue and addiction. Although the drug ring Lillian and Arch find themselves embroiled in is fictional, the medical and military view towards combat fatigue and its cause and treatment was just beginning to be understood during this time period. Through the lens of contemporary experience and understanding, in hindsight it is maddening to imagine that anyone could view one suffering from the condition with anything but compassion. Arch’s panic at the thought of being decommissioned due to his shot nerves is an almost palpable fear, a heart-rending representation of the fear that can choke a person when faced with losing the only life they’ve ever known or aspired to live.
While it took a bit longer for me to warm to Arch and Lillian’s characters (compared to Jim and Mary in Through Waters Deep), ultimately I found myself even more deeply invested in their character arcs and romance. Their happy ending feels particularly hard-won, as the trust issues that plagued them, isolating them behind walls of fear and doubt, were so raw and honestly sketched on the page, that I could not help but cheer them on their journey. And if I’m being transparent, Lillian’s character trajectory was particularly meaningful, challenging the temptation to let fear or pain rather than faith dictate one’s response to life’s often heart-breaking challenges. Sundin deftly parallels Arch and Lillian’s characters, from their issues with trust and snap judgments to how, through their varying physical challenges, each comes to realize that their circumstances are not pre-set markers of success or failure. Rather, when one seeks to live within the center of God’s will, those circumstances can be transformed from perceived punishments or burdens into opportunities for transformational growth. This is only my second Sundin novel, but her warmth and facility for the 1940s proves to be an irresistible combination, as Anchor in the Storm has set the bar gloriously high.