The Road Home by Ellen Emerson White
Between the fact that Angie picked The Road Home for Flashlight Worthy’s The Most Romantic Young Adult Books of All Time list and that it was written by Ellen Emerson White, *of course* I had to read it. Needless to say, I had high expectations for this one, and The Road Home more than lived up to them. I think I was expecting a bit more romance, but, oh, I was not disappointed at all by what I actually got.
Soon after breaking her ankle and the deaths of her two closest friends, Lt. Rebecca Phillips resumed her duties as a nurse in Vietnam. Although her ankle has had no time to heal, the rising number of American casualties after the breakdown of the Tet truce meant that everyone in the hospital was working around the clock.
The entire hospital staff had been working straight through for — actually, after the first forty-eight hours, Rebecca lost track. …
By the third day, they were being given amphetamines to stay awake, pausing only long enough to slug them down with cold strong coffee before moving on to the next patient. Rebecca worked on complete medical auto-pilot, starting IVs, stopping bleeding, and cutting off limbs that were only hanging by tendons to save the surgeons time. Things got so crazy that, for about a day and a half, there was a huge pile of amputated arms, legs, and feet piled haphazardly in one corner of the ER, waiting for some poor corpsman to have the time to haul the gory mess away. (p. 3-4)
Few things are able to distract Rebecca from her exhaustion and the visceral effects of experiencing war firsthand, just friendship with some of her fellow nurses, and, increasingly, letters from Michael, a soldier she met when she broke her ankle. But her relationship with Michael is left unresolved when both leave Vietnam and life does not get any easier for Rebecca upon completing her tour of duty overseas. She returns home to a still-damaged relationship with her father, who did not approve of her desire to attend medical school, more nightmares, and a growing reliance on alcohol.
From the very first page, the very first sentence, of The Road Home, I was hooked. The narration has an intimacy and immediacy that engages the reader and draws them into the story. White doesn’t sugarcoat the horrors of war, but by telling the story in a limited third-person POV that focuses on Rebecca—war’s effect on her, both in Vietnam and in America—she, as Liz B. puts it, “does a masterful job of showing both that war is hell AND respecting the soldier” without coming across as preachy or didactic.
Rebecca is reminiscent of Meg from the President’s Daughter series, and therefore the trauma she must deal with, both in Vietnam and at home, reminded me of Meg’s struggles in Long Live the Queen and Long May She Reign. But as both books—all four of the President’s Daughter books, actually—are among my favorite YA books, this wasn’t a bad thing at all.
Although The Road Home follows the four-book Echo Company series White wrote under the name Zack Emerson, it works as a standalone. I haven’t read the Echo Company series yet, but if anything, The Road Home makes me want to read it even more, especially the third and fourth books in the series. I think this is because of the brilliance of White’s character development and how it propels the story. While the plot of The Road Home is relatively simple, the characters and their relationships are anything but. They leap off the page as fully developed, dimensional characters, and as the story goes on, their complexity only increases. So, when it comes to Ellen Emerson White, at least, it doesn’t matter if I know the events that took place in previous books because it’s the characters I find fascinating and intriguing and care about.
Book source: public library.
Previously: Reviews of Ellen Emerson White’s first three books in the President’s Daughter series, the fourth book in the series, and another plug for Long May She Reign.