The War Librarian

Written by Addison Armstrong
Review by Sarah Hendess

Armstrong sidesteps the sophomore slump in this gripping dual-timeline tale of a WWI librarian and one of the first female cadets at the U.S. Naval Academy.

In September 1918, Emmaline Balakin takes a volunteer librarianship role at an Army hospital in war-torn France, where she’s upset by her orders to destroy certain books that the State Department deems dangerous. Determined to speak out against the censorship, she and a soldier pen a letter to a newspaper in support of librarians’ right and obligation to provide unfettered access to all ideas—not just the ones the government approves of.

In 1976, Kathleen Carre joins the first group of female cadets at the U.S. Naval Academy. She and the other women are subjected to misogynistic slurs, threats, and even physical violence. When she receives a box of WWI memorabilia from her recently deceased grandmother, who served as an ambulance driver in France, a male cadet who’s been tormenting her steals a letter decrying government censorship and tells school authorities that Kathleen wrote it. Kathleen finds herself on trial for sedition and has to reach back into her grandmother’s past for help.

Once again, Armstrong has crafted a tale of two women battling the status quo in historical eras that are relevant today. Emmaline and Kathleen both rail against book banning, racism, and misogyny and have to make difficult choices in their efforts to do what is right. While the soldier willingly helping Emmaline pen a letter than could have gotten him executed feels like a stretch, Armstrong’s point about the importance of access to ideas rings true. Dual timelines can be tricky, but Armstrong aligns hers perfectly so the issues each woman is dealing with run parallel. Readers won’t want to put this one down.