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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
Love and War at Kent State by Jon Michael Miller is a love story wrapped in the seminal events that occurred in May 1970, when members of the Ohio National Guard fired on a group of student protestors on the campus of Kent State University, killing four students and wounding eight, including one man who was permanently paralyzed from his wounds. Jake Ernst was a young graduate student in English literature, seeking to use Kent State as a stepping-stone to a better school and his eventual doctorate. Employed at Kent State, he fell somewhere in the middle ground between student and faculty member. Despite his strong opposition to the Vietnam War, Jake wanted to complete his time at Kent State and move on; he wanted no part in the explosive mix of radicalization happening on campus. When Jake moves into his off-campus apartment, he meets and immediately falls in love with the beautiful young high school teacher, Natasha Van Sollis, who lives in the apartment across the landing. Although Jake’s attraction and flirtations with the young teacher appear to be reciprocated, there is one major stumbling block; Natasha is engaged to be married to a local fellow teacher, who also happens to be a member of the Ohio State Guard. True love never runs smoothly, and in the powder keg that was tertiary education in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, anything could happen, and frequently did.
Love and War at Kent State is a powerful social documentary of a turbulent time in American political history. Jon Michael Miller takes us deep inside a little-known (at the time) institution and beautifully outlines the battle lines drawn as arguments over generational change, civil rights, women’s rights, the Vietnam War, and even the very purpose of tertiary education were debated. The period and the geopolitical situation gave the author a real opportunity to raise all these issues for readers to consider in the context of what is essentially a romantic story. He does this brilliantly. One aspect that stood out the most was how easy it was for the student radicals to sway large groups into the protests. This was a well-known deeply conservative State, and the students were, in general, from white, conservative homes. However, there was an all-pervading feeling it was time for change sweeping across the Kent State Campus, in much the same way as in universities across America at the time. I loved that the author used some of the narrative to discuss deep, philosophical issues that young people of all generations have always pondered. This was a thoughtful, insightful read and an excellent romance which I highly recommend.