As part of a moral boost in Sarah Sundin's WWII novel, With Every Letter, nurses write anonymous pen pal letters to soldiers with whom they are paired. Through the program, two lonely people find a secure source of friendship that cannot be influenced by what otherwise holds them back - her exotic looks and foreign upbringing, and his suffering under the stigma of being the son of a famous murderer. Philomela Blake, known as Mellie, is threatened to lose her position as a med-evac nurse - one of the nurses who takes care of wounded soldiers on the flights to hospitals away from the front - if she cannot make friends and work as part of the team. As a lieutenant and lead engineer for building airports as the Americans push forward toward Italy, Tom McGilliver needs to be able to lead his men, but his position is also threatened by his lack of authority and respect from his men. Together, sharing insight on what works for them in the other's place of failure, they build each other up, both in confidence in themselves and in faith in God, never expecting that they would fall in love over their correspondence.
There is so much growth in this story as Mellie and Gill overcome their failings. In a plan to avoid becoming his father, Gill tries to lead by showering his men with kindness and compassion, rather than ruling by fear, like so many other officers. However, kindness only goes so far; he cannot actually control his men, and not just Gill suffers for it - other officers and their men have to pick up the slack. For an excellent example of authority, Mellie recommends that Gill look to Jesus. Yes, Jesus was full of compassion and kindness, but he was not afraid to rebuke and discipline, which is what Gill needs to work at.
Some of what the other nurses say about Mellie is harsh, but it still is true - she has closed herself off from friendship for fear of being hurt. Like Mellie, so often we're afraid to lay our hearts bare, afraid to be rejected, afraid to
feel one more disappointment. But that attitude neither shows love nor
receives love. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love (I John 4:18). Letting go of fear is hard work, and it takes a lot of practice. It is no guarantee we will not be hurt - is not Jesus hurt constantly by rejection also? - but it opens us to a much fuller ability to receive and share God's love.
This is an excellent novel, and I feel enriched having read it. The Christian lessons and advice are not just "stuck in" to make it a Christian book - it is an integral part of the characters, and they live their faith, imperfect though they are. Their letters feel real but do not overpower the plot or interactions they have with their peers and each other. The historical details of the med-evac nurses are fascinating, as well as the exotic settings as the war progresses. Definitely worth 5 out of 5 stars!
Wings of the Nightingale
1. With Every Letter
2. On Distant Shores
3. In Perfect Time