The Ship of Brides: A Novel
It's the end of World War II. British soldiers who were stationed in Australia have left, but not without making an impact. They left hundreds of Australian brides, some of whom are pregnant, and now it's time for the brides to be reunited with their soldiers.
The Ship of Brides tells a remarkable story of the voyage of these women across the ocean in a retrofitted aircraft carrier. It's based on a true story. Focusing in on four fictional women who are randomly assigned to be bunkmates, this novel shows a cross section of the young Australian brides with a variety of experiences and motivations to cross the vast ocean to join their British husbands.
Jean, at sixteen, is the youngest bride in the cabin. She likes to have fun and would probably benefit from a caring, protective family life. Avice is a high-class girl from a rich family who was hoping for a passage on the Queen Mary rather than the aircraft carrier they end up on with hundreds of seamen and a few Marines. Margaret is a friendly farm girl who boards the ship over halfway through her pregnancy and has a few surprises up her sleeve. Frances is a mysterious young nurse who doesn't talk much about her past, her husband, or much of anything to the other girls.
The novel is structured as a timeline of their journey, and as time goes on, the girls' relationships get more complex and the secrets start coming out. The concept of marriage and family relationships has become somewhat fluid during the war and its aftermath, and some of the girls haven't seen their husbands for a pretty long time. Eventually, as they begin mixing and socializing more, life with the men on board ship gets more complicated as well. Without giving too much away, life-changing events happen to some of the men and women while on this journey.
The Ship of Brides was a really good read. I had no idea that this type of transport even took place, and it was really interesting hearing the details of daily life on the ship as well as digging into each character. I started imagining it as a film and thought about which young actresses would play each character. I got really emotionally invested at the end and one particular twist had me so upset I had to put the book down for the night, which is always a sign of good writing. This book would make an excellent gift for anyone who is interested in historical fiction about women, relationships, and the WWII era- so many of the WWII stories out there are about men that it was refreshing to learn more about the women's side of things as well. Highly recommended!