The End of Innocence
It’s 1914, and at just 17 years of age, the affluent Bostonian Helen Brooks is struggling with losing her suitor to another girl. Most likely it’s because her mother has shocked Boston society by working with Margaret Sanger in helping poor women plan their families—something proper people would never discuss, much less be willing to go to prison for.
Helen gratefully takes herself off to Radcliffe, where she’s swept off her feet by Riley, an Irish ladies’ man, and then, more lastingly, by his cousin, Wils Brandl, a German student at Harvard. Helen, like most Americans, doesn’t think much of the Kaiser’s bellicosity or Germans, but she and Wils fall in love only to be parted as Wils returns home to fight for his country.
Allegra Jordan says that part of her inspiration for this story was the small plaque found at the Harvard Memorial Church commemorating those Harvard students who died as German soldiers during the war. The plaque, written in Latin, was found tucked far away from the larger memorial for the Harvard students who died fighting with Allied troops.
The End of Innocence is a compelling and believable love story in an era so different as to be foreign in many ways, despite being just 100 years ago and in familiar Boston, a city that’s still famously parochial and snobby. I enjoyed it immensely for the way it carried me along. Part of the wealth of the book was the way the self-righteously prim Helen came to see the point in speaking out, risking calling attention to herself, and advocating for a position other than the safe one.