Review: The Farmerettes by Gisela Tobien Sherman

The Farmerettes

From Second Story Press:

The Second World War is raging. Millions of men have left to fight. But who will take over their jobs?

A group of mismatched girls live and work together on a farm during the summer of 1943. Defying convention, they must take over for the men who’ve gone to fight.

I’d known that women filled men’s jobs during wartime, though when I imagined such work I always pictured factory-work. City work. Rosie the Riveter springs to mind. But until I heard about Gisela Tobien Sherman‘s novel The Farmerettes (Second Story Press), I hadn’t given much thought to life outside the city in times of war. The Farmerettes offers a glimpse into the Farm Service, when young women from all over—many of whom had never even been on a farm before—lived and worked on farms in an effort to contribute to the war effort, producing food for both locals and overseas troops, and bringing in much needed income.

The story focusus on six Canadian farmerettes: Binxie, who dreams of following in her pilot sister’s footsteps; always sunny Peggy, whose smiles hide her fear of the other girls discovering her heritage; Helene, who works herself to the bone to send money home; Isabel, who wants to make her soldier fiancé proud; Jean, whose family farm needs the farmerettes to survive; and mysterious X, who prays the farmerettes won’t find out she’s in love with another girl.

The Farmerettes was interesting, thoughtful and had me contemplating what it must have been like to be a woman during the war, surrounded by fear and suspicion on the homefront, and terrified for loved ones overseas. For me, this was definitely a book about the resiliency and strength of women.

The most powerful scene for me was definitely near the beginning when young men are parading through town on their way to war. The men are clearly hiding their fear with bravado and the young women who aren’t crying over their goodbyes are swooning over all the handsome soldiers in their uniforms. I found this scene very disturbing, but I think it properly conveys the propaganda of the time and the pressure for young men to enlist. I also like how the book shows women’s roles in society evolving through the farmerettes expressing desires to keep working when the war ends.

My one complaint is character X. She felt like a last-minute add in, whose story really didn’t need to be told on its own. First of all, why refer to her as X? The book is divided up by character names, so where is this girl’s? Calling her X makes her feel less real. Even the other girls, who live with her for an entire summer, refer to her only as “the girl with the yellow scarf”—they would call her by name. Where the other girls were given pages devoted to them, X’s parts were small, sometimes only a paragraph, with very little detail beyond letting the reader know that X is still struggling with her sexuality. I felt her story should have been explored in more detail, or else told through the other farmerettes’ interaction with her, such as Binxie, who was the most observant and understanding about X. It was frustrating that X wasn’t given her share of the book. She didn’t have a character arc so much as a blip at the end of a straight line.

With the exception of X, The Farmerettes is a character-driven story that had me eager to know more about the Farm Service girls, both fictional and those who really signed up. The Farmerettes is a story of friendship, love, loss and growth that I believe will appeal to fans of both wartime YA novels, and those who enjoy friendship-centred stories like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Very enjoyable.

♥ ♥ ♥ (3/5 hearts)

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