As a member of the Vietnam-era anti-war group Fishbone, a young woman named Lucy Johansson set a bomb in a building at Columbia University. Fishbone’s intention was to make a statement against the presence of military recruitment and ROTC programs on college campuses, not to kill the night janitor, who is cleaning the building on his usual night off. Appalled by what she has done and terrified of the potential consequences, Lucy goes underground with the assistance of her brother Adam, reinventing herself as Doreen Woods.
Thirty-four years later, Doreen has a successful dental practice and a loving family, and her only tie to her past is Adam, whose body has been ravaged by a long battle with MS. When Janey, a fellow Fishbone member, locates Doreen, she feels her past catching up with her, and knows that it’s time to reveal the truth to her family.
She Was takes place over the span of one week, with copious flashbacks to Doreen and Adam’s coming-of-age in 1960s Kansas and the events that transformed them into the adults they became. Hallowell reveals the truth of both lives slowly, giving readers powerful glimpses of Doreen’s youthful activism and Adam’s tour of duty in Vietnam.
She Was is an extraordinary novel, not only for the parallels it draws between the Iraq War and Vietnam, but for the descriptions of the human toll that war—and radical activism—can take. By compacting the present-day narrative into a brief span of time, Hallowell lets her characters’ pasts speak for them, describing how young adults’ need to prove themselves—whether to a homophobic father or a charismatic love interest—can steer their future. This is an essential read for all who appreciate intelligently-written, powerful, and thought-provoking historical fiction.