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She Was    by Janis Hallowell Amazon.com order for
She Was
by Janis Hallowell
Order:  USA  Can
William Morrow, 2008 (2008)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

She Was Lucy Johansson in 1970, off to college in Berkeley from her middle class home in Kansas, young, na´ve, and idealistic. Her brother Adam, home from fighting in Vietnam, was bitter and depressed, a survivor in name only of the horrors of war that had made him grow up too fast.

Adam felt like an outcast even more after returning from Vietnam. Before the war, he hid his sexual preference for men as well as he could and endured the taunts of those who guessed his secret. He could never be the man that his father wanted him to be, but he went to war anyway to try to prove himself. Because he was so unhappy back at home, he drove Lucy to California to college. When Lucy's involvement in an antiwar group went horribly wrong, Adam helped her, thus involving himself, too.

She became Dr. Doreen Woods, a married, respectable dentist with a loving husband and son. After thirty-four years in her new identity, she thought she had escaped the mistake she made when she was still in her teens until one of those former antiwar friends contacted her. Suddenly her life would have to change again and all those she loved - her husband, son, and brother - would be dragged into the ensuing mess.

This is a terrific book, well-written and insightful. The characters become our friends, caught up in the chaotic events of the Vietnam War and of the seventies antiwar movement in the past, and living ordinary lives trying to do the right thing in the present time. One has a terrible disease and the others rally around, taking care. There is love in this family, as well as goodness and intelligence. The past is so long ago. How can it be so important any more what happened thirty-four years ago? How do you make amends for the mistakes of youth?

We get into the heads of all four of the main characters - Doreen/Lucy, her husband Miles, her son Ian, and her brother Adam. We also get into the heads of some of the other characters, so we know their motivations. We know exactly why everyone did everything and can decide what we think should happen to Doreen. What is the value of a life, whether lost or lived, and what punishment should society bring to bear on someone who has lost so much already and poses no further threat? Questions like these make this novel truly wonderful and impossible to forget.

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