3 out of 4 stars
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Dear Margaret by Pamela Ackerson is a fairly short and straight-forward account of a pen-pal relationship between friends Harry and Margaret, which takes place during WWII, while Harry is away with the US Navy Reserves and later as he becomes part of the Black Cats air crew. As the war unfolds, Harry and Margaret exchange letters, each relaying the events at their respective locations.
Having joined the reserves before his senior year of high school, Harry is called away in May prior to his graduation, and sent to a base in Hawaii. Meanwhile, Margaret’s letters to Harry tell of her schoolgirl life and mundane events back home. While Harry is in Hawaii, Pearl Harbor is attacked, and the entire course of the war (as well as the content of Harry’s and Margaret’s letters) changes. Margaret drops out of school to join the war effort, while Harry’s missions grow increasingly more dangerous.
Though at times Harry’s account of the events taking place around him is a bit dry and technical, especially when he details the various equipment he uses, the book also includes a fascinating amount of real-life information about the day-to-day operations of fighters like Harry. Having read the afterward, I realized that though this is a work of fiction, it is based on true events, and the technical equipment information is accurate as well. The letters between the pen pals are written in a succinct conversational tone, which not only enables for quick reading, but also allows a reader without any knowledge of the war or radio and airplane equipment to follow along easily. Despite the fact that Harry’s account of the war grows more intense as the time passes, his letters maintain a methodical and practical tone.
One of the most interesting aspects of this work is the contrast between Margaret’s life on the mainland and Harry’s life on base in Hawaii and later as he traveled all over the world for various missions. Margaret’s letters offer a fascinating glimpse on the war’s effect on everyday American lives, as she describes rationing and supply shortages, travel difficulties, and the not-always-reliable spread of information regarding the war. The contrast between their lives is highlighted by the difference in tone and terminology within their letters – Margaret’s typically offering a much more reactive and emotional response to events. As the book switches back and forth between the two accounts, the contrast of their lives forces the reader to consider the significant impact of the war on every single person living at that time.
I found this to be an informative account, though I had hoped it would go a bit deeper in the picture it was aiming to paint. Perhaps because the tone of Harry’s letters was so technical, it was not always easy to connect emotionally to the events he described. The only exception to this is when he describes the minute details of living through the Pearl Harbor attacks – his letter really came alive then, though the others he writes are much more removed from the scenes in them. Margaret’s letters were easier to connect with, as her life took on many drastic changes as the war progressed, and one could see her progress from the daily comforts available before the war to an entirely new lifestyle. However, one thing that I believe would have made the book better would be a more noticeable character development for one or both of the main characters. Largely, their personalities remained fairly consistent within the tone of the letters from the beginning to the end, though in my opinion it would have made a bigger literary impact to witness the impact the events of the war must have had on them. Regardless, this is a solid and informative read for folks who are interested in war accounts and WWII specifically, and folks who enjoy stories of friendships during difficult times. I rate this book 3 out of 4 stars.
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