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Reviewed by Asher Syed for Readers' Favorite
Ella's War by Rusty Allen is a military historical novel that revolves around Ella and Lee Tingle, a common-law married couple who live on a small farm with their young son Reese in a coastal Delaware town during World War II. Lee Tingle is determined to join the military, despite being exempt as a farmer. His eagerness to serve compels him to enlist nonetheless and leave Ella and Reese behind. Ella is left to manage the farm on her own, a daunting task that proves to be too much for her. A family member works at a nearby camp for captured German POWs and assists in getting Ella the labor she needs through the camp. A bond is forged between Ella and a POW laborer named Dieter, which eventually leads to an affair. Aside from the expected moral dilemma for Ella, the affair also has consequences for Reese. When Lee returns from the war, injured and transformed, Ella must confront her choices and make a decision about her future.
Ella's War by Rusty Allen beautifully explores the themes of love, war, and the reality of surviving when a mother is left behind, against an almost cinematic backdrop of rural farm life farm and the social expectation of loyalty and duty in the 1940s. Perhaps reading this novel through a contemporary lens makes me far more sympathetic to Ella, even when both Reese's and Lee's points of view, which are also represented, might otherwise tip the balance in favor of Ella's son and husband to an older reader. There are two significant aspects to Allen's story that struck me, and why I think this novel is a truly exceptional piece of literature. The first is what we would expect of a woman if her partner left her and her son under any other circumstance. If Lee had hated working the farm and decided to take a job in Europe, would we still expect Ella to stay home, remain his dutiful partner, sacrifice her own happiness, and ultimately teach her son that a man's desire for fulfillment is more important than a woman's? The second is the irony of Lee leaving his family to fight the Germans, only to have a German fill his role as husband. It's essentially a swapping of roles. The writing is wonderful and the emotional depth transcends the page. I would give this book a whole bucket of stars if I could.