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Lovely War by Julie Berry
Viking Books for Young Readers, 2019
Young Adult / Historical Fiction
Trigger Warnings: Violence, War, Death, Sexual Assault, Racism, Race Related Violence and Death, Depictions of PTSD
It’s 1917, and World War I is at its zenith when Hazel and James first catch sight of each other at a London party. She’s a shy and talented pianist; he’s a newly minted soldier with dreams of becoming an architect. When they fall in love, it’s immediate and deep–and cut short when James is shipped off to the killing fields.
Aubrey Edwards is also headed toward the trenches. A gifted musician who’s played Carnegie Hall, he’s a member of the 15th New York Infantry, an all-African-American regiment being sent to Europe to help end the Great War. Love is the last thing on his mind. But that’s before he meets Colette Fournier, a Belgian chanteuse who’s already survived unspeakable tragedy at the hands of the Germans.
Thirty years after these four lovers’ fates collide, the Greek goddess Aphrodite tells their stories to her husband, Hephaestus, and her lover, Ares, in a luxe Manhattan hotel room at the height of World War II. She seeks to answer the age-old question: Why are Love and War eternally drawn to one another? But her quest for a conclusion that will satisfy her jealous husband uncovers a multi-threaded tale of prejudice, trauma, and music and reveals that War is no match for the power of Love.
I believe this was one of those “BookTok” made me do it purchases I made at the height of quarantine this summer. Lovely War has sat on my bookshelf for months, and when I needed to read a book with a pink cover for a read-a-thon I participated in in January, I knew it was finally time to read it.
When I first started reading this book, I was absolutely amazed by the Greek mythology , beautiful love stories, and music references. It was absolutely incredible, and I decided only a few pages in that this was going to be a five star read.
Alas, it is not. Pretty quickly, some things I wasn’t a fan of began to happen. There was a sexual assault that I was not prepared for, and while it was not violent, it was described as almost identical to my own experience ten years ago. It was very triggering, and I only wish I had been prepared. There was also racism and a race-related murder that I wasn’t expecting that was difficult to read, especially in today’s day and age. Finally, the endings seemed to be very rushed, which is kind of funny, considering the book is over 400 pages. The amazing detail and imagery that I loved in the beginning seemed to vanish towards the end.
I liked this book. I did. But the sexual assault scene really, really rubbed me the wrong way. I think this goes to show why trigger warnings are important. When I was triggered, I froze. I read the same sentence over and over again as my own trauma replayed in my head. I’m grateful that with a lot of therapy, I’ve come a long way to being able to cope when I’ve been triggered. But it wasn’t always like that. In high school, I stayed away from books and movies with certain themes. I would ask my English teacher to give me a heads up, and had a plan in place with my resource counselor as what to do if I was assigned a book that could trigger me.
This isn’t a weakness. It’s self-awareness. I know myself very well, and I know what can trigger me. Trigger warnings allow me to prepare myself and cope ahead. Half of the power of my triggers is that they can blindside me. Trigger warnings take the power away from my trauma and put it back in my hands.
In all the hype I saw for this book, I don’t remember seeing one trigger warning for sexual assault. Granted, I bought the book around six months ago, so I could be wrong, and his could be my own error. But another reason that the sexual assault really bothered me is that it seemed so needless. I think the scene was only thrown in for shock value, and I really didn’t appreciate that.
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