I was surprised to find Clio at War by Peggy Gardner not listed in the young adult (YA) genre on Amazon. I recommend this as a good YA read because of an absence of sexual or violent language. This is most appropriate as the Main Character is 11-year-old Clio. She will tell most of the story in the first person. Clio begins the story as a very angry daughter of Delia. Her mom is taking her on a “forced march” to Wolfe Flats, Oklahoma. The town and area are as small and boring as the name implies. Delia will leave Clio with Aunt Harriet and Aunt Norma as Delia pursues an exciting career in Europe as a war correspondent. Delia dreams of being a contemporary of Martha Gellhorn. The war is WWII. After dropping Clio off, we hear next to nothing about Clio’s mom or the war in Europe.
This story will cover the WWII experience of those living in the US, the shortages and rationing tolerated by a population willing to sacrifice in the present for future victory. Some groups sacrificed more than others. Clio is aware of the internment of Japanese, many of whom were American citizens, by the US government. Clio will see the unreasoned fear and discrimination against Germans and even “suspect” Europeans, many of whom were born in the US. Clio arrived with her mother in Wolfe Flats from New York, where Clio had spent her entire life. Clio will have to adjust from a cosmopolitan lifestyle to one where there are separate water fountains and separate schools for racial groups. She lives in an area where there is a special holiday for honoring the Confederate war dead. These points make this a valuable YA read.
There is solid character development of Clio as she deals with many factors. She has been abandoned by her mother, put in the care of ultra-conservative elderly aunts, and forced to attend a decidedly inferior school. For example, the school library is smaller than her bedroom in her New York apartment. All these factors take time to develop and come about at the expense of the main plot. This novel is not a page-turner but for people unfamiliar with the historical period, there is fun in the discovery of new information.
We have two big mysteries. Why did Delia abruptly leave Wolfe Flats? She has voiced her desire never to return to her home many times in conversations with Clio. Delia literally dropped Clio off at her aunt’s house. She exited the cab with Clio, knocked on the front door, and re-entered the taxi, riding off without looking back to see if anyone answered the door. Clio only gradually becomes aware of the bigger and more central mystery. Over a period of years paralleling Clio’s lifetime, four women have disappeared, the most recent just over one year prior to Clio’s arrival. Clio will make it her mission to figure out what happened. If she couldn’t solve the mysteries of the disappearances themselves, she should at least be able to figure out why people give her partial information in incomplete sentences, as if they are trying to conceal information from her.
I enjoyed the novel because I learned new information about the experiences of people who did not go off to war. I enjoyed the detailed character development and the YA point of view. I gave this novel four Amazon stars only because I felt Clio unbelievably precocious for her age. The Kindle price on Amazon is USD 7.99 but can be read free through a Kindle Unlimited subscription (the way I read it). I was alerted to the novel by Voracious ReadersOnly and could have received the book free from the author. Since it was available on KU, why not pay the authors for their work?
This is a pleasant novel to gently bring in the New Year.