The title of Home Front Girl: A Diary of Love, Literature, and Growing Up in Wartime America is a bit misleading, as this marvelous real diary by Chicago teenager Joan Whelan covers the years from the mid-1930s leading up to America’s entry into World War II until just after the country entered the war, ending in December 1941.
It is, however, an absolutely fascinating book. Joan Whelan grew up to be Joan Whelan Morrison, adjunct professor of history at the New School for Social Research and the author of two oral histories. After she died in 2010, her daughter, also a professor and author, found the diaries her mother kept from age 13 to 19. In the diaries, her mother indicated that she felt she was writing the diaries to some day be read and shared, and that is what her daughter has done with this book.
Joan Whelan is, in many ways, a typical teenage girl, extremely interested in boys and fashion, school and parties and dates. She illustrates her diary with little drawings of herself in various outfits and hairstyles, is always late for everything and worries about her homework.
But she is also extremely bright and interested in literature and politics. She moves easily from discussing the “beautiful boy” who sits by her in class to discussing Cicero, quoting Emerson or Wordsworth, or commenting on Churchill, Hitler, and the progress of the war in Europe. She muses on death and war even at age 15 and is often surprisingly prescient.
Because Whelan has a wonderful way with words throughout her diary, she brings you into her world completely. You feel as though you know this girl and are familiar with her world. You also get a clear view of how things change and yet stay the same, a theme that Whelan discusses many times herself.
These diaries are a treasure on a scale with Anne Frank’s. They tell the remarkable story of a real girl in a momentous time in history, from a unique viewpoint full of humor, insight, and emotional highs and lows on both a personal and an international level.
Anyone with an interest in cultural or world history, from teenagers to adults, will enjoy and be enriched by this book.