When The World Was Young: A Novel by Elizabeth Gaffney is the story of Wally, a young girl growing up during World War II and it’s aftermath. Wally is a feisty girl who loves reading Wonder Woman comic books and studying bugs and whose best friend is the son of the family maid. The book follows the unconventional Wally as she grows up and experiences what the world has to offer her.
Wally is an intriguing character, only seven when the book starts, and it was interesting to read about her as she grew up. Family is a big theme in the book, and most of the experiences that shape who Wally is revolve around her family. Her mother, Stella, is often distracted and seems unhappy with her life. Her father is a naval officer and often away from home. Wally’s grandparents are barely minor characters in the book, but their maid, Loretta, is like a second mother to Wally, and Loretta’s son, Ham, is Wally’s best friend. Mr. Niederman, a boarder, acts as a father figure to Wally before he mysteriously disappears from her life. All of the characters were flawed, but I enjoyed reading about them, although some of the adult characters (like Wally’s grandparents) could have been fleshed out more. I thought Stella’s history was very sad and I loved Mr. Niederman’s storyline and how it affected Wally, although I wish it ended differently.
I really liked seeing the world through Wally’s eyes- she is very young when certain events happen and it was interesting to read her perspective on them and to see how it changed as she grew up. This story was layered and easy to get into. Even though it hints at a major event in Wally’s life in the beginning, it is still heartbreaking when it happens. Wally keeps the story from being too predictable and the ending is not quite what I expected, but it was still satisfying. This is a lovely book.
4 out of 5.
I received a digital copy of When the World Was Young by Elizabeth Gaffney through NetGalley in exchange for my review.