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The Photograph    by Virginia Ellis order for
by Virginia Ellis
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2003 (2003)
* * *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

Maddie Marshal's seventeenth birthday should have been a red-letter day, signaling the fact that she's on the cusp of womanhood with her whole life ahead of her. Instead her special day is overshadowed by Pearl Harbor, the nation's horror and then its scramble to answer the enemy's deadly attack. At first Maddie thinks it's terribly romantic and adventurous when all the young men (including her older brother Davey) from her small mid-west town run off to enlist. Not even his worry over the health of his frail wife Ruth - who's recuperating from a miscarriage - can dim Davey's sense of duty. With promises to take care of himself and come home soon, he leaves for basic training.

Maddie's sense of adventure escalates when she and her frail sister-in-law travel to Miami at Davey's request to be with him until his training is complete and he receives his orders. For a short time the idea of war is overshadowed by the excitement of living in a big coastal city and making new friends. Maddie falls in love with a dashing British flight instructor, Steven Tull-Martin. When the time comes for her beloved brother and her sweetheart to ship out, they agree to have a group picture taken on the eve of the men's departure. Though the others consider it a wonderful memento of their short time together, for Maddie the picture is an unwanted reflection of a terrible secret she hopes no one will ever discover.

Virginia Ellis gives us another moving and truly poignant tale. Each chapter is cleverly written from the point of view of either Maddie or Ruth, and interspersed with letters written by these woman to the men they love. Maddie and Ruth's characters complement each other nicely. Through much of the story Maddie reacts with the exuberance and positive outlook of a young innocent, while Ruth - in her wise, quiet and graceful way - understands exactly what she, Maddie and so many other wives, sisters and mothers stand to lose once their men march off to war. The Photograph, a wonderfully well-told story about a moment in history not long past, shouldn't be missed.

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