When the World Was Young
Wally Baker’s dad is serving in Japan during WWII, and her mother is a medical intern working numerous hours to further her dream of becoming a doctor. Wally is raised practically part-time by her grandparents, but she spends more time with her grandmother’s African-American maid, Loretta, and her son, Ham. To Wally, Ham is the only one she can share anything and everything with. Their world opens to the reader on glorious V-Day, when so many danced in the Brooklyn and Manhattan streets over this long-overdue end to a cruel, horrific war.
Ham and Wally develop an avid interest in the world of ants, including all facets of how they move, eat, obey the queen ant, and reproduce. These studies are facilitated by a professional entomologist at the famous Natural History Museum. Wally’s mother, meanwhile, is becoming great friends with a boarder, Mr. William Niederman, a visiting math professor who is actually working on a secret, lethal project at a well-known university. This will turn out to have a shattering effect on the Baker family, one even greater than the two losses that Stella, Wally’s mom, has already endured.
When the World Was Young is a riveting coming-of-age story. The author depicts the tumultuous, annoyingly vague, and unsettling thoughts, feelings, and actions of a young girl who has to negotiate new relationships, analyze the awareness of roles and social standards regarding African-Americans, and negotiate the fluctuating pathways of familial and romantic love. The reader will come to respect many well-drawn characters and empathize with strong but sensitive Wally’s ever-changing challenges. Elizabeth Gaffney has crafted a mesmerizing tale in the highly credible guise of a commendable historical novel. Wonderful read!