Home Front Girl has won the Gold Medal in Historical Young Adult and the Words on Wings Book Award (only four books get a Top Honors, which this is) from Literary Classics. Read their review here and their interview with me here.
Home Front Girl was Nominated in the Young Adult Nonfiction category for the Cybils 2013 (Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards).
Home Front Girl won the Literary Classics Seal of Approval. Their review can be found here.
Joan was an extraordinarily bright and insightful young girl growing up in Chicago at the advent of the second world war. She had a profound love of literature, an introspective outlook on relationships with the opposite sex and was an extremely gifted writer. This book offers a wonderfully unique and genuinely honest glimpse into the life of a precocious young girl during the tumultuous time leading up to and during World War II. A fascinating and entertaining read, Home Front Girl is equal parts wit and grit. Readers of all ages will delight in the verbal meanderings, assertions, and contemplations of Joan Whelen Morrison as they follow her through her early teens on up to young adulthood. Recommended for home and school libraries, Home Front Girl has earned the Literary Classics Seal of Approval.
Literary Classics Seal of Approval
“[B]etter than fiction.” Kirkus Reviews
“Chicago schoolgirl Joan Wehlen was known for her writing skills—quite correctly, as her always-entertaining 1937-1942 diary proves.
Fourteen when she began recording her thoughts and day-to-day activities in her diary, Joan had an eye for detail and an intelligent sense of the importance of events that were occurring in the world around her. Her entries, while often funny and frequently self-deprecating, presage the inevitably coming war: “We are no different: every generation has been burdened with war…It is just that this is my generation.” Fear of the impending war is a common theme in her life; it haunts Joan’s dreams. But in spite of those concerns, she remains upbeat and enthusiastic. The diary reveals her amusement at wearing “a horrid but glamorous” color of lipstick, mild flirtations with “B.B.B. in B.,” the “Beautiful Blue-eyed Boy in Biology,” and her efforts to manage homework at the kitchen table. She tries to sort out her feelings on religion and the inevitability of death but chuckles over repeatedly counting the steps—“One-two-three-four, one-two-one-two”—during an awkward dance. In sum, readers will likely be surprised by just how much like them Joan is, in spite of her having written her work 75 years ago.
A fine, insightful and sometimes moving journal composed by a wholly likable young woman—better than fiction.”
Home Front Girl was featured in the Morristown, NJ Daily Record after a talk Susan gave. Here is the article.
At the reading and signing in Morristown, NJ.
Home Front Girl was featured in The Christian Science Monitor–with pictures. Look here.
Julia, the 13 year old critic at New Moon Girls, writes, “This piece of literature is the best historical diary I have ever read.” To read the rest of her lovely review, please look here. Thank you, Julia!
Story Circle‘s book reviewer Trilla Pando writes, “This book is more than an interesting and well-written account of an individual; it is history….Kudos to that daughter, Susan Signe Morrison, who took volumes and volumes of diaries, journals, school notebooks, and other documents and crafted both a loving portrait of her mother as a young girl, and an accurate history of time and place.
Memoir and journal lovers will relish this book. But I can also see it on American History reading lists in both high schools and colleges. Were I ever to teach a journaling workshop to young people, this one would top the list.
When I really appreciate a book, I share it. A friend who has a birthday coming up might want to watch her mail box. Don’t worry. It’ll be brand new. Mine is a keeper and has already found a place on my overcrowded bookshelves.” Elsewhere Trilla writes, “This is an important book.”
Chicago Book Review writes, “Home Front Girl is rich in detail. It is witty and bright and thoughtful and insightful. With as many as 1,200 World War II veterans dying every day, the publication of Wehlen’s diary is important. It is a remarkable document, one that should be treasured for the contemporary, first-hand glimpse it offers of a world that soon will be lost to those living among us.” Home Front Girl also made the CBR Holiday Reading Guide for 2013.
This review at Blogcritics writes, “These diaries are a treasure on a scale with Anne Frank’s. They tell the remarkable story of a real girl in a momentous time in history, from a unique viewpoint full of humor, insight, and emotional highs and lows on both a personal and an international level. Anyone with an interest in cultural or world history, from teenagers to adults, will enjoy and be enriched by this book.”
Confessions of a Book Addict writes: “As I was reading it, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Anne Frank’s diary, The Diary of a Young Girl. There’s no doubt that this book would make an excellent companion to an Anne Frank/WWII unit, as it truly gives readers an idea of what life was like for a girl living on the home front during a tumultuous time not only in the United States, but the world. Students can make many connections between the girls as well as their similarities regarding their reflections and thoughts on life. Sadly, Anne never did become that writer she dreamed of; however, Joan ended up becoming a writer amongst other things. I was glad to hear this as it was definitely an innate talent of hers…..As I was reading it, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad because that innocence is so hard to achieve this day in age; nonetheless, I loved learning more about what life was like for a young girl living then.
I recommend Home Front Girl by Joan Wehlen Morrison to fans of young adult non-fiction, WWII, and those that are curious as to what life was like during a time that is gone forever.”
The Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia likewise praises Home Front Girl and links it The Diary of Anne Frank and Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. “[Joan’s] intellectual curiosity, humor and facility with language mark this diary not only as an important historical record, but a superb read as well….She was a very intelligent girl and then woman, and her mind was an active and beautiful thing, no matter her topic.
A reader cannot help but connect with Joan after only a few pages. She is likeable, remarkably aware and observant, and no more self-obsessed than any other human being. She chronicles her small triumphs and doings with style. Her writing is elegant in stretches, naïve or quirky or snappy in others. Joan’s reactions become the reader’s – her wonder at fresh-fallen snow or beautiful music, pondering the significance of a world event, seeing a film, recording her dreams.
While I think Joan’s diary is an important primary source (a first-person historical account), I think it is more interesting as literature. I hope it will be read as a coming-of-age account during a historically significant moment. And as a side note, my favorite entries were the ones written around Christmas each year (perhaps that’s inevitable as we are ourselves in the holiday time now).
Recommended for: anyone who has wanted to get inside the head of an American young person during WWII, and those who enjoyed The Diary of Anne Frank.”
Good Reads with Ronna understands Joan as a kindred spirit: “I just could not put it down. I had to read every single word, and I can see myself reading this book again one day….Throughout the diary, readers can step inside Joan’s thoughts and read of her experiences, from the every day to the extraordinary – her latest crushes, her talents as a top student, her friendships, a tuberculosis scare, how she is always hungry and how she is perpetually late for nearly everything. Most importantly, Joan is sensitive to the pre-war atmosphere and writes with great wisdom about what is happening globally as well as what she dreads with the impending doom of America going to war looming in the air. Her WWII comments are really quite perceptive and educational….I love that some of her actual diary pages and doodles are included in the book and footnotes are used to help the reader understand details about Joan’s entries….What I enjoyed most about the diary is Joan’s intellectual insight about what is most important in life….[Y]oung readers will take away from this book is that teenagers from more than 70 years ago were not much different in most ways than teenagers of today – minus technology of course….I highly recommend this book for any young readers, particularly girls, who wish to broaden their horizons and make friends with an American girl from decades ago who was honest and real. I now feel as though I know Joan Wehlen Morrison personally, and I only wish she had written more journal entries about her life so I could read more.I commend Susan Morrison and her brothers for sharing their mother’s private words with the world. Oh how I wish my mother or grandmothers had left me with a treasure of a diary such as this!” Thank you for such a lovely review!
Home Front Girl was frequently number one on Amazon.com’s Hot New Releases in Teen History list, which features books for one month after their release.
“Witnessing Morrison mature as a woman and a writer is invigorating and memorable.”
“This contemplative and often entertaining collection of journal entries, poems, clippings, and sketches by the late Morrison, edited by her daughter, spans the tumultuous years between 1937 and 1943, which took Morrison from age 14 to 20, and took the world from the Great Depression into WWII. Morrison’s parents were Swedish immigrants who settled comfortably in Chicago, and Morrison details her school day concerns and studies, exploring the city, her crushes on boys, attending the University of Chicago, and her thoughts on religion, books, films, and more. She also comments on the increasingly dramatic news of the day, from the Hindenburg crash (“The Herald Examiner said 100 people were killed, but as it’s a Hearst paper, 50 is a safer guess”) to Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into the war (“Well, Baby, it’s come, what we always knew would come”). Her sensitivity to and exuberance about events large and small is contagious, though her poetic tendencies are tempered by her doubts, intellect, sarcasm, and savvy. Witnessing Morrison mature as a woman and a writer is invigorating and memorable.”
“A coming of age memoir of life in America between 1937-1941. If you have ever questioned how the American people stood by while Europe was torn apart, this book will answer some of those questions. Fourteen year old Joan Morrison begins this diary as Hitler begins conquering Europe . She is a normal teenager, questioning her teenage romances, her teachers, the political times and the world around her. The diary provides a window into the 1940s, a time so different than today, technologically, but strikingly similar as well.
Susan Morrison finds her mother’s diary after her mother’s death in 2010. The diary was a warm reminder of her mother’s presence, something today’s computer generation is missing. The diary could be used to encourage students to write their own memoirs or as a conversation starter for intergenerational programs. Poems, photos, newspaper clippings and drawings add insight to the period…. The book is an excellent addition to an American history course to understand what the average citizen was experiencing while war unfolded.”
—Voya (Voice of Youth Advocates)
“Home Front Girl reveals the perceptions of a creative, brilliant, and hopeful yet genuine teenage girl in an uncertain and perilous era. Joan’s charm, naiveté, curiosity, and philosophies (reminiscent of Anne Frank) revealed in her journals left me with the hope that such depth of thought, creativity, sweetness, and forgiveness—as well as her sense of wonder—may still be found in today’s generation of young people.”
“An important and refreshingly engaging word painting of a far more innocent time in US history. Home Front Girl is all about the thrill of being young, of questioning, and dreaming . . . and how those dreams can so easily begin to shatter under the crush of impending world events. The perspective here could not be more pure. Recommended!”
“This Chicago teenager’s journal—riveting and real—recalls an era when adolescence was preparation for adult life.”
“This captivating diary of the years leading into World War II provides a fresh view of the American scene, before and after the attack on Pearl Harbor .” —Donald A. Ritchie, author of Doing Oral History
“When I was younger, I loved books like Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl and Zlata’s Diary(a diary of a girl growing up in Sarajevo during the Bosnian War). The first is very well known and the second is not as well known. What they have in common is that they are both important books showcasing the way that people lived during really difficult times in our shared history. Home Front Girl is a book in that same tradition.
Joan is a young girl growing up around Chicago during World War II. The book covers from before the United States entered the war until near the end of the war. Joan is wise beyond her years and makes a lot of really interesting observations throughout the book. Her diary is a fairly thorough documentation of both what normal, everyday life was for an American teenager before the war. It also documents all of the changes that the country went through once the war began.
This book will appeal to both those who are history buffs as well as those who usual read more Historical Fiction than actual history. The diary is compulsively readable and would definitely be a good crossover for readers who really don’t usually pick up non-fiction.
Bottom line: A great historical read!”
BookLoons writes, “A creative teacher or parent homeschooling a child might wish to use this book as the model for having a child keep a similar journal in which she reacts to what is going on in the world around her.”
Many thanks to Kidlithistory, for writing, “Three cheers for Susan Signe Morrison! As a historian, I’m thrilled that this diary is now widely available. In doing a quick amazon search, there don’t appear to be many American World War II diaries in print, and even fewer by women. The home front experience is a vital part of the history of any war, and we need this additional voice. Especially because it is such a young voice.” She compares Joan to Rilla Blythe in the Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery. What an honor! “I think it would be fascinating to teach the two books, hand in hand.”
Bookscoops writes, “I feel like I have a new friend after reading Home Front Girl. Joan Wehlen was so palpable on the pages of this book, that I wish I had in fact met her and could call her my friend. Full of historical snippets and teenage soliloquys, Home Front Girl is the Yin to Anne Frank’s Yang….I highly recommend Home Front Girl as a primary source for research and insight into the Greatest Generation as so many have called Joan and her peers.”
Here’s a lovely review from Charlotte’s Library: “I wish I could have been her friend, because she really does sound like a kindred spirit.”
Here is a new piece about the book from my alma mater, Swarthmore College.
“It often seems a slower, sweeter time. I could go on and on, because this book is just so quotable… but really, you want to get a copy of Home Front Girl for yourself so you can curl up with it and let Joan take you back in time, as you see the world through the eyes of this appealing narrator.” — The Militant Recommender
Stephanie Piro’s cartoon from Home Front Girl from The Militant Recommender [http://militantrecommender.blogspot.com/]
Other reviews include:
Tom Palaima wrote this lovely reflection on my mother and her book in his piece for the Austin-American Statesman called “The Rich Legacy of a Home Front Girl.”
In Times Higher Education, Peter J. Smith writes, “”Morrison’s teenage diaries provide an eyewitness account of Chicago during the Depression as well as America’s entry into the Second World War. They unveil a refreshingly enquiring mind, distinguished by an artistry that is both philosophically and poetically adroit: ‘Spring comes only once when you’re sixteen.’ Her reflections span the playfully ironic to the arrestingly self-aware. A profound book, lucidly edited by her daughter, Susan Signe Morrison.”
The Children’s War, a blog that reviews historical fiction and non-fiction for children and teens set in and around World War II: “Joan Wehlen’s diary is by turns funny, serious, playful, patriotic, optimistic, pessimistic and moving…It turns out that Home Front Girl is more than just a diary, it is a document of its time and a very interesting window through which to view this eventful period of era.”
Simply Stacie: “I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone like Joan. As I was reading her journal entries, I had to keep reminding myself that she was just a teenager when she wrote them. At least, most of the time. She was very much the typical teenage girl when she’d talk about the boys she fancied and the dates she went on, but her attention to the world around her was quite extraordinary to me. Maybe it was just the difference in our generations, but I don’t feel like I paid as much attention to what was going on in the world as she did when I was fifteen.
I was a bit surprised by how ‘real’ Joan was. I don’t mean in how she talked, but more in the way she behaved. I’ve always pictured the 1930′s and 1940′s to be the ‘clean cut’ era, so I was surprised by how late she’d stay out and how she’s sit around drinking wine and smoking cigarettes while discussing books at the age of eighteen. I’m not upset by it, I just found it surprising and eye opening.”
Diary of a Bookworm: “[T]here’s nothing quite as evocative as hearing someones thoughts on historical moments, as it happens, straight from the source. All you have to do is think about how deeply Anne Frank’s diary resonates, how meaningful her thoughts on love and growing up are especially when placed in context of what she was doing. Often, the most powerful material is the stuff that isn’t even directly about the war going on around her, but how she was a young girl still, and in many ways no different than any young girl today.
Home Front Girl is similar in many ways, taken from the view point of a young girl who is the primary age for enlistment by the time her country joins the war, who is well aware that many of the boys she’s known and grown up with won’t survive. And yet, she still worries about her latest haircut, or lipstick choice, her grades and if there’s something wrong with her since she loses interest in boys by the time she’s gotten them interested in her.
Sprinkled in are profound thoughts on the war, Churchill, her parents and the beauty of taking each day as it comes. Home Front Girl is both a great way to interest younger audiences to the American late entry into WW2, and to remind older audiences all the things we have to be grateful for in our time and place in life. Joan’s thoughts on her life and her time, from the relaxed view point of what you would tell your diary, was a delightful change of pace for me. It’s the words of a strong young woman, who is still silly enough to worry about every slight exchange with a boy, and it was thoughtful, sometimes amusing and an intriguing window into a time period that’s not often highlighted from an American standpoint.
For fans of the Diary of Anne Frank, this would make an intriguing counterpoint, but it would also make a refreshing addition to any home library. A great book to share, make sure to consider it on your gift giving list this season.”
School Library Journal: The book is “a good primary source to complement an American history textbook; it might also be enjoyed by readers who like historical diaries of real people.”
Home Front Girl (Chicago Review Press, 9781613744574) was reviewed on Librarina, a book blog for teens and tweens, on December 26, 2012. The blogger says “people who enjoy reading and learning about this time in history won’t want to miss Home Front Girl.”
The May/June 2013 issue of Library Media Connection (circ. 18,000) recommends Home Front Girl:
“Joan Wehlen was 14 in 1937, watching world events unfolding around her. Her daughter found her journals after her death and saw them as a window to an important time. Joan is an engaging and amusing guide to the 1930s and 40s, active in school she worries about her grades and boys, and she worries about world events in Germany and other countries. This would make an interesting companion to Anne Frank’s diary. Joan came alive for me….This could be very useful for a unit on World War II or journal writing. Students who enjoy history would also enjoy it for independent reading.” Suzanne Libra, Teacher Librarian, Silver Hills Middle School and Alternative Campus, Westminster, Colorado
Diary of an Eccentric writes: “Home Front Girl is a charming book about being a teenager in the late 1930s and early 1940s. From these entries, it’s easy to see Joan was intelligent, funny, vivacious, well liked, and thoughtful. What a treasure for her daughter to find these writings after her death, as through them Joan lives on. Readers of all ages will find much to like in these pages and might even be inspired to write their own stories for future generations to ponder.”
History in the Margins writes, “A couple of weekends ago–in between baking ham, slicing sweet potatoes, chopping cranberries and rolling out biscuit dough– I gave myself the treat of reading Home Front Girl: A Diary of Love, Literature and Growing Up in Wartime America. And a treat it was….If you grew up loving Anne of Green Gables and Daddy-Long-Legs, or weeping over Anne Frank, give Home Front Girl a try.”
By Singing Light writes, “Joan’s diaries are immediate…I loved her mix of humor and deep thoughts and silliness–she felt familiar, like a friend I hadn’t known before.”
The Well Read Spartans write, “Home Front Girl is a fascinating look at life in the late 1930’s and early 40’s. …Readers will find that teenagers of today are not so different from those of the 30’s – they struggle with getting to class on time, sometimes blow off their grades, and find that being pursued by boys is often more fun than actually dating them. Joan’s voice is poetic, introspective, and often humorous. However, the looming war weighs heavy on Joan’s mind …. This title is a wonderful primary source for students studying U.S. History.”
Joan’s own alma mater writes how she is “[s]mart, funny, and with an eye for detail.”
LiterariTea writes, “Remember Anne of Green Gables’ delightful, dramatic, so-very-intense-and-everything-is-so-of-the-moment-and… voice? That’s what this collection of real diary entries reminds me of.”
The Teen Blog Plano Teens Connect writes, “There was no way I would not finish until the very end. It is a great read that paints a realistic picture of 1930s & 1940s era.”
And Home Front Girl is a Staff Pick at East Greenbush Community Library. They compare and contrast it to The Diary of Anne Frank and write, “[T]here is nothing like a primary document to help readers appreciate exactly how people felt and what they actually went through….People who enjoy reading and learning about this time in history won’t want to miss Home Front Girl.”
SkippingStones March-April 2013 issue writes, “[T]his diary details the life of an intelligent and funny young woman growing up in the U.S. during World War II. It includes Joan’s writings from 1937-1943, and also her sketches from original notebooks.”
Allison’s review on Goodreads says, “I found myself connecting with Joan in a very real way. Ultimately, the book illustrates perfectly that teenagers from the World War II era are hardly different from those of today. All will struggle with finding their identity in the world.”
Riverside Public Library (in Illinois) features Home Front Girl on its website: “Joan flirts and dates many boys. She has plenty of school work to deal with. She struggles with her feelings on peace and religion. Ultimately, these excerpts reveal a girl who is trying to find her place in society just as any teenager today.”
From the Mixed Up Files writes, “A sweet journal of love, literature and growing up in wartime America, Home Front Girl is what some have said is reminiscent of Diary of Anne Frank. This book is technically a YA, but it may suit some mature MG audience members. It provides a heartfelt insight into one of the most memorable times in American history.”
An interview with the editor, Susan Morrison, filmed for RLTV, is shown periodically. Here is one time. Susan is described as “[b]ubbling with personality.”
You can read Susan’s interview with Trilla Pando with Story Circle Book Reviews.
Susan also interviewed with Cynthia Leitich Smith, the bestselling author who generously writes about her fellow authors.