21 June 2014

The Secret Of Raven Point by Jennifer Vanderbes, Book review

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First Edition edition (February 4, 2014)
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439167007
  • Also available in KINDLE format


From the award-winning writer of Easter Island comes a powerful story of love, loss, and redemption amid the ruins of war-torn Italy.

1943: When seventeen-year-old Juliet Dufresne receives a cryptic letter from her enlisted brother and then discovers that he’s been reported missing in action, she lies about her age and travels to the front lines as an army nurse, determined to find him. Shy and awkward, Juliet is thrust into the bloody chaos of a field hospital, a sprawling encampment north of Rome where she forges new friendships and is increasingly consumed by the plight of her patients. One in particular, Christopher Barnaby, a deserter awaiting court-martial, may hold the answer to her brother’s whereabouts—but the trauma of war has left him catatonic. Racing against the clock, Juliet works with an enigmatic young psychiatrist, Dr. Henry Willard, to break Barnaby’s silence before the authorities take him away. Plunged into the horrifying depths of one man’s memories of combat, Juliet and Willard are forced to plumb the moral nuances of a so-called just war and to face the dangers of their own deepening emotional connection.

In luminous prose, Vanderbes tells the story of one girl’s fierce determination to find her brother as she comes of age in a time of unrelenting violence. Haunting, heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting, The Secret of Raven Point is an unforgettable war saga that captures the experiences of soldiers long after the battles have ended.

Wounded soldier

1943 Italy (Photo source here)

My thoughts:

Jennifer Vanderbes latest novel is the result of nearly ten years of research in what we term today PTSD (Post Traumatic Symptoms Disorder) during WW 2. Albeit fictional, the novel is based on facts and thus reflects the gruesome aspect of war while delving into its effect on humanity.

Superbly written, THE SECRET OF RAVEN POINT's plot line exposes relationships cemented on the front line, soldiers, doctors, nurses and even civilians, the latter, hapless victims trying to survive one day at a time.

With nearly 50,000 desertions alone in the US Armed Forces, 49 of these resulting in the death penalty, the amount of information available on the subject of mental illness resulting from combat fatigue is well documented but remains a taboo subject for many. Despite the attempts of medical personnel, the brass was not always willing to acknowledge the damages inflicted on the lower ranks.

The author is to be praised for writing a compelling novel thus reaching thousands of readers, people like you and I, who might have been otherwise clueless about this condition. 
Taking in consideration the reasons behind the illness brings a totally different perspective to outsiders. It is all together easier to forget what it took for those brave men and women to overcome the enemy as instead we focused on celebrating the victories it purchased (at the cost of millions of lives). 

Amongst military personnel few wishes to speak of their harrowing time on the front line and its emotional scarring. People think PTSD is one of those trending problems of the century when in all respect, this condition is as old as time, humans warring for one reason or another. 
However, WW 2 just like the Great War (you know the one that was supposed to end all wars...) shed new light on what foot soldiers in particular suffered during engagements, in addition to delays (or lack of) in supplies!

The Secret Of Raven Point follows a bright but shy young girl whose close relationship with her older brother, the football captain of his HS team, is the basis for the plot line. 
Juliet is only 17 when Tuck enlists in the US army following the Pearl Harbor disaster. He is soon shipped overseas and writes regularly until one day, his last letter before he disappears contains a code phrase they used in the past between them: Something is wrong and Tuck's cry for help cannot be ignored.
Lying about her age, Juliet enlists in the Army Corps Nurses program and armed with Tuck's letters she soon follows the path she believes his unit took across Italy's war zone.

There in the field hospitals of war ravaged Europe the young nurse faces the reality of the inhuman conditions soldiers embrace as they fight they way inch by inch. When a soldier is brought in, an apparent suicide attempt, Juliet hears he was part of Tuck's unit and thus begins the story behind the story.

A 5+ stars novel, the best I have read until now on Italy's WW 2 front line, The Secret Of Raven Point is definitively a book you will not soon forget!

Jennifer Vanderbes does not shy at graphic descriptions and from the gouged battlefields to the stench of overwhelmed field hospitals, we witness the ravage of conflict yet hope, life's essential element, trans passes above all in this honest story about love and loyalty and the truthful limits of our sad humanity! 

Marocchinate monument - Monte Cassino, Italy (Source here)

Meet the Author:

Jennifer Vanderbes is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and the recipient of numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and a New York Public Library Cullman Fellowship. Her debut novel, Easter Island, was named a "best book of 2003" by the Washington Post and Christian Science Monitor and was translated into sixteen languages. 

Her second novel, Strangers at the Feast, was described by Library Journal as "an absorbing and suspenseful story about the dynamics of family,generational misunderstandings, and the desperate ways one copes with both the arbitrariness of fate and the consequences of one's choices." Her third novel, The Secret of Raven Point, will be published in February 2014.

Her essays and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the Atlantic. Her short fiction has appeared in Best New American Voices, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Granta.

She has taught creative writing at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Columbia University's M.F.A. Program, and at the Colgate Writers' Conference. She currently teaches in the University of Tampa's M.F.A. program.

Visit her website (HERE) for additional information.

Note: This was a library loan and reflects ONLY my opinion!


  1. This book sounds interesting, Noelle. I wonder if they have made a movie also?

    I hope you are enjoying the June days in your little corner of the world. It's so good that you stopped by. I love hearing from you.


    1. No movie that I know Sheri and very few actors these days capable of playing the parts in my opinion, sad to say.
      Going to the cabin, nice warm days in sight!
      Thanks for stopping by,

  2. Hi Noelle,

    PTSD affects so many people today who have experienced tragic circumstances and the fact that the author explores this in her novel is interesting. Thank you for a wonderful review. I had not heard of Jennifer Vanderbes; she is quit accomplished, indeed.


    1. She is indeed Poppy. I am looking forward to read more of her novels!
      Blessings to you and yours,

  3. I can't remember having read a WWII novel set on the front lines in Italy, so that alone intrigues me. Sounds like a well researched novel. I'll have to look for it.

    1. Very well researched Anna, hope to hear your thoughts on it!


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