Reviewer Lois C. Henderson: Lois is a freelance academic editor and back-of-book indexer, who spends most of her free time compiling word search puzzles for tourism and educative purposes. Her puzzles are available HERE and HERE Her Twitter account (@LoisCHenderson) mainly focusses on the toponymy of British place names. Please feel welcome to contact her with any feedback at LoisCourtenayHenderson@gmail.com.
Author: E.E. Smith
Publisher: Phoenix International, Inc.
ISBN: 978-0-9835615-1-4 (New Edition)
The fictionalized account of life in a Sacramento boardinghouse during World War II, as seen through the eyes of an 11-year-old schoolchild who has decided that working as a maid and cook in such an establishment will be a much better deal than picking peaches, as she had done during her previous summer vacation, is bound to bring back a tear or two (as well as a smile) to the older generation. For those who have only heard of such a period through the first-hand experiences of their older relatives, it is also likely to enlighten and inform regarding the perils that were ever-present at the time, as seen through the eyes of the average American citizen. The experiences of middle-class WASPS at a time when work was plentiful, though the pickings were lean (and rationed), are offset against the traumatic displacement of the resident Japanese and Japanese-Americans, as represented by the erstwhile gardener, who flees the internment camp where his family is being held to seek help from his previous employer.
This slice of life, and the way in which Smith deals with how the average person coped with the challenges of the time, brings home with great immediacy the conditions under which Americans lived while under potential threat of bombardment at any time. The role that the different home guard services played during the War is exemplified by an air raid warden who is one of the highly varied characters residing in the boardinghouse (or guest house, as Mrs. Mumson, familiarly known as Mumsy, prefers to call it). How the different inhabitants of the house impact upon one another (including to the extent of one young woman falling pregnant by a gentleman lodger) makes for heartwarming reading. It is only natural, then, that when they are faced by the young escapee earlier mentioned, instead of turning him in to the police, they band together to assist him to return to his family, in a way that helps him to avoid official wrath.
Boardinghouse Stew is a delightful, and exciting, account that should appeal to a wide-ranging audience. The black-and-white photographs of buildings and cars (one of the lodgers appears to be an inveterate gambler, who seems to have a new car at his disposal almost every other week), among other elements of the wartime era described, help to make the past come alive, even to those who personally never lived through such times. In all, this work makes for a perfect gift for an older or younger relative or friend, with whom one can discuss the implications of the paths taken, and the attitudes adopted, by the individuals involved. This book, in fact, deserves to be made recommended reading for middle school learners, as it is an inspiring coming-of-age text that is bound to inculcate a sense of empathy in modern-day youngsters, whether or not they are American, or of American descent.