Title: Letter to My Daughter
Author: George Bishop
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: ARC for a TLC Book Tour
First line: Dear Elizabeth, How to begin this?
Laura and her daughter, Elizabeth, have a huge fight the night before Elizabeth’s fifteenth birthday. When Elizabeth storms out of the house and doesn’t return for hours, Laura sits down to write her a letter, telling her the story of her own stormy adolescence, a story of forbidden love, estrangement from her parents, war, and overwhelming grief.
In Letter to My Daughter, George Bishop has done an amazing job of capturing the turmoil that is female adolescence, as well as the fear a mother experiences when her own daughter is becoming a woman. I was very surprised that a male author could so perfectly write about the relationship between a mother and daughter, as well as the feelings that flood a teenage girl the first time she falls in love.
Laura is terrified by the thought that she is losing her daughter. She’s witnessed the change from pigtails and tights to black lipstick and piercings, and, like any mother would, wonders if these outward signs are the result of an inner trauma, something that Elizabeth hasn’t felt free to share with her mother. In an effort to show her daughter that she truly does understand what it is like to be fifteen, she writes down the story of her own first love.
At age fifteen, Laura fell in love with Tim, a young man three years her senior. Her bigoted parents didn’t like the fact that he was Cajun, and sent Laura to a Catholic boarding school in an attempt to separate the two. Laura struggled to fit in as a charity case in a school full of upper class students while Tim enlisted in the Army so he could afford to provide for Laura when she graduated. He was shipped off to Vietnam, and the two tried to maintain their relationship through the mail, in spite of the fact that they were both undergoing major changes that made them almost strangers to each other.
As a mother who has confessed her own romantic history and mistakes to her teenage daughter, I felt for Laura and understood why she wanted to tell her story to Elizabeth. I don’t necessarily agree with the conclusions she came to on the subject of premarital and/or adolescent sex, but as I read I found myself applauding her willingness to be completely honest with her daughter. As parents, how can we expect our teens to trust us with their secrets if we live, talk, and act as if we were never teenagers ourselves? It’s no wonder they hide the details of their lives from us – they really don’t think we could even begin to understand.
In this slim novel, Bishop has written a very human story that deals not only with the mother-daughter relationship, but the horrors and realities of war and how it changes the men and women involved, both the ones who serve and the ones who are left behind. I would have liked more of Laura’s story, but the design of the novel – as a letter written over a day or so – didn’t allow for that, and I did think the format worked for the story Bishop wanted to tell. Recommended.
(An ARC of Letter to My Daughter was provided to me by the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it for this blog tour. The above link is an Amazon affiliate link. If you click on it and subsequently purchase anything, I will receive a small percentage in commission.)