Guest Review: When the World was Young by Elizabeth Gaffney
Wally Baker is no ordinary girl. Living in her grandparents’ Brooklyn Heights brownstone, she doesn’t like dresses, needlepoint, or manners. Her love of “Wonder Woman” comics and ants makes her feel like a misfit–especially in the shadow of her dazzling but unstable mother, Stella.
Acclaimed author Elizabeth Gaffney’s irresistible novel captures postwar Brooklyn through Wally’s eyes, opening on V-J day, as she grows up with the rest of America. Reeling from her own unexpected wartime tragedy and navigating an increasingly fraught landscape, Wally is forced to confront painful truths about the world–its sorrows, its prejudices, its conflicts, its limitations. But Wally also finds hope and strength in the unlikeliest places.
With an unforgettable cast of characters, including the increasingly distant and distracted Stella; Loretta, the family’s black maid and Wally’s second mother; Ham, Loretta’s son, who shares Wally’s enthusiasm for ants and exploration; Rudy, Wally’s father, a naval officer, away serving in the Pacific; and Mr. Niederman, the family’s boarder, who never seems to answer Wally’s questions–and who she suspects may have something to hide–Elizabeth Gaffney crafts an immersive, beautifully realized novel about the truths that divide and the love that keeps us together.
I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for an honest review.
I was really excited about reading this book when I read the plot summary for When the World was Young. But, when I started reading, I was sadly disappointed.
The book lacked organization in a big way. For the first five chapters or so, I couldn’t figure out who was the main character, Wally or her mother, Stella. It did become clear shortly thereafter but the skipping around of whose point of view within the chapters made it confusing to keep up with who was the narrator. I’m all for the different points of view. But, the author should at least make it clear to the reader who is speaking. In When the World was Young, the narrator was changing within the chapter and with no real transition as to who was narrating.
Also, the characters never developed. It was almost like Wally was stuck in childhood. When she finally decided to confront Bill Niederman, she didn’t end things well. She could have ended things without him feeling more terrible than he was already feeling and had felt for the past 10+ years.
I found the book depressing and boring. The fact that everyone kept dying or abandoning Wally was just so incredibly sad. The poor child was basically raised by her maid, Loretta. I loved Loretta, though. She was one of the only good characters in the book.
I would not recommend this book to anyone. It lacked cohesiveness and character development. It was truly a disappointment.
1.5 stars out of 5