Just Once

Written by Karen Kingsbury
Review by Waheed Rabbani

In 1941, in Bloomington, Indiana, pretty Irvel Holland is busy with her studies at university and, while dating Sam, is secretly enamored with his younger brother, Hank. Irvel and Hank have been friends since their school days. While Hank is also in love with Irvel, he does not confess it to her. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Sam is drafted and sent off to war. Naturally, working together, Irvel and Hank’s love is rekindled. Due to her mathematics skills, Irvel is recruited to serve as a spy by the Office of Strategic Services but must keep it a secret. Upon hearing all the disturbing news from the war fronts, and despite Sam’s advice, Hank enlists in the Marines and is sent to serve in the Pacific. Some devastating news is received. Irvel wonders if she has lost everything and will find love again.

In her author’s note, Karen Kingsbury mentions the interesting way she developed this novel’s plot. While writing her acclaimed books The Baxters Series, she “met” Irvel at the fictitious Adult Care Home mentioned early in the novel and decided to tell her story. Indeed, the biographical writing style adds realism and appeal. The pre- and post-WWII era in the USA and the norms of that period are well presented to transport the readers into the scenes’ settings. The war and details of the battle scenes are well narrated, with just enough details to keep us engrossed in the story. Alzheimer’s is introduced delicately towards the end. Some readers will be reminded of the similarity to Nicholas Sparks’s praised novel The Notebook. The framed story structure using the discovery of old videotapes is unique. Recommended.