Women's friendship novels are as plentiful as World War II novels, but Ellen Feldman has skillfully and tenderly merged the two in Next to Love, the story of three friends in a suburban Boston town, pals since kindergarten, who are just old enough to be of marrying age when Pearl Harbor changes the world. South Downs is idyllic on the surface, but a class hierarchy reminds Babe of the side of town she's from, allows Millie to settle easily into the house her in-laws provide, and prevents any of them from questioning the justice of Naomi cooking and cleaning for the town's wealthy.
The men go to fight and we share their experiences through letters home, while life in South Downs reflects the tragedies and impact of the war. Some return, some don't; children grow up; marriages are tested. The women experience the isms of the 1950s and '60s--racism, patriotism, anti-Semitism and a foreshadowing of feminism--and the author gracefully reveals these social groundswells through the prism of the small-town families. In her fourth historic novel (Scottsboro;The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank; Lucy), Ellen Feldman once again creates rich, credible characters who invite readers to share moments in history and imagine--even wish--we were there with them. I was framing reading group prompts before I finished the book. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, bookseller