It is 1944 when I Gave My Heart To Know This byEllen Baker begins – WWII rages and women all over America have joined the workforce. In Superior, Wisconsin, Grace Anderson, Lena Maki and her mother, Violet Maki, work at the Superior Shipbuilding Company as welders. Grace is engaged to Alex Kowalski, a Marine. Lena’s brother and Violet’s son, Derrick, is in the Navy.
Grace dreams of a life in California, while she dutifully corresponds with Alex. Lena meanwhile obsesses over her “perfect” brother, hounding Grace to correspond with him, convinced that Grace and Derrick belong together. When Alex is killed, Derrick is lost at sea, and Mr. Maki dies unexpectedly, all three womens’ lives take turns never imagined.
Suddenly, Grace is caught up in the toxic relationship between Lena and Violet. Lena is convinced that Violet killed her father, to the point of convincing the police to question her. Violet sells the family farm to Grace and her husband, Joe – and Lena begins a campaign to usurp Grace’s role as wife and mother.
Fast forward five decades and we find Julia, Violet’s great-granddaughter, returning to the Maki family farm after the tragic death of her fiancee. Her plan is to help renovate the farm house – and, during the process, Violet returns and the dark secrets of Grace, Joe and Lena are revealed.
This is a well-written book, with characters drawn to evoke strong feelings within the reader. Grace is such a likeable character – she gives up design school when tragedy strikes her family and her dreams when she unexpectedly becomes pregnant. She is generous to a fault, allowing Lena to easily interlope. Violet is a survivor. And Lena – well she is just flat out unlikeable from beginning to end. She is annoying, manipulative and deceptive – you almost know there is something wrong with her, given her obsession (and that expresses it lightly) with Derrick and, after he is lost and her father dies, her obsession with Grace’s new family.
Parts of this book were painful and Lena was most definitely annoying on so many levels – but she is meant to be (I hope). It is a good story and I am glad Lena did not keep me from missing it!
Random House provided a review copy of this book. All opinions are my own.
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