When We Had Wings

Written by Ariel Lawhon Kristina McMorris Susan Meissner
Review by Katie Stine

Set during WWII in the Philippines, When We Had Wings is the story of the first American women POWs of the war. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese Imperial Army invaded, first Manila, and then the rest of the islands. The reader follows Eleanor, a Navy nurse; Penny, an Army nurse; and Lita, a Filipina civilian nurse working on American military bases. After the invasion, the women are shipped to different POW camps and prisons, continuing to nurse the populations they are confined with. Each woman encounters her own set of problems, as they are shifted from site to site as the war drags on.

Perhaps because it involves three perspectives and three separate authors, the narrative feels less cohesive and more episodic. There is a great deal of information to impart to the reader—not just the location of the camp, but the conditions and culture that spring up in each place. However, there was not a single time when I felt immersed in the book. The love stories felt forced, with the exception of Penny’s romance with the quartermaster, Charley. I felt compassion for the plight of the prisoners, but often was confused about which woman’s story I was reading because the voices felt the same across all three perspectives.

This is a fresh take on a very full genre of WWII retellings, and the authors do an excellent job keeping the timeline clear. If you enjoy reading about WWII, and want more than just the European front, this is a different vantage point worth reading.