Book Review: Dear America: When Christmas Comes Again, The World War I Diary of Simone Spencer (New York City to the Western Front, 1917) by Beth Seidel Levine

christmasagainSimone Spencer is DA’s oldest narrator at eighteen years old. Born to a fairly well-to-do family in New York City with an American father and French mother, Simone is bilingual in the English and French languages. After she graduates high school, Simone learns that all American men between the ages of 21 and 30 are being drafted for the Great War, which includes her married older brother, Will. Instead of waiting for the draft, Will enlists in the war and sails off to Europe. Wanting to be of use herself, for her country and her brother, Simone also enlists, utilizing her bilingual abilities to become a switchboard operator (or “hello girl”) on the Western front to help the French, English, and Americans communicate with each other.

This book gives a fascinating insight into the significantly important role these 450 switchboard girls played in the victory of World War I. If not for proper communication between the Allies, America may not have been able to win. (Sadly, it took nearly 60 years for the “hello girls,” as they were called, to gain any sort of national recognition, veteran status, or medals of honor, and at this point only 4% were still living.)

But “When Christmas Comes Again” is, at heart, a love story. While stationed in her mother’s hometown in France, Simone meets and falls in love with the strapping and dashing young soldier, Sam. As she writes: Sam “stops her world,” and it is “love at first sight”. Theirs develops into a touching and beautiful story, one of the best romances to be found so far in the series. Perhaps this book is meant for slightly older readers, as the age of the narrator suggests. But it is nonetheless a clean, educational, and endearing yet heart-wrenching read. A good addition to the series, and my only pity is that it is themed as a “Christmas” book when Christmas truly had little to do with it, and it could have been presented and promoted as so much more.