REVIEW: The Whistle Stop Canteen by Barb Warner Deane
A wartime train station encounter changes a lifetime…
After losing her fiancé in WW1, Margaret Parker settled into a quiet, lonely life as the town librarian in North Platte, NE. After the US enters WW2, Margaret volunteers as the historian for the Servicemen’s Canteen organized by the women of North Platte. When Captain Tom Carver strolls into the Canteen, he’s immediately drawn to Maggie and works hard to woo her, via letters, as he heads off to war. While reluctantly falling in love long-distance, Maggie also opens her heart to the teen-aged girl she supervises and the townswomen working beside her, while fearing for the lives of the servicemen and women she meets at the Canteen. When Tom springs a surprise on her, and then winds up MIA, Maggie must come to grips with her fear of another loss. Relying on her new family and friends, she must take a chance on love, if she wants to make a life for herself after the war is over.
Dear Ms. Warner Deane,
The idea of this book appealed to me as it seemed to promise a story with an older hero and heroine as well as one about World War II which is all the rage now. I knew that there were several places which handed out doughnuts and coffee to service personnel and about the famous Stage Door Canteen in NYC and Hollywood Canteen in LA but this one in Nebraska I knew little about. Well, now I know a lot about it and I loved learning the history and the amazing job done by the people living in the small towns of Nebraska and Colorado.
Soon after war comes to the US after Pearl Harbor, the patriotic women of North Platte, Nebraska decide to pitch in and do their part by trying to provide refreshments, reading material and good wishes for the US military members traveling by train across the country. Since the town was a designated tender point for the Union Pacific, by the end of the war over twenty trains daily were coming through and the volunteers often helped over 5,000 people a day.
Town librarian Margaret Parker volunteers to be the canteen historian and (wo)man the reading table. Before she knows it, two new people are part of her life – young Rose who dreams of meeting a man and moving out of the small town and Captain Tom Carver who begins to woo a reluctant Maggie via letters. Maggie lost her first fiance during WWI and is hesitant to risk putting herself through that kind of loss again but Tom writes a good letter – or several letters – and Maggie finds herself replying, just to be nice or so she thinks.
It takes persistence from Tom before Maggie finally begins to soften but after years of writing, he finally gets her to say yes to his proposal. But there’s something Tom hasn’t told her and and the war is still raging in the Pacific. Can Maggie work through her feelings and give Tom a second chance and will he even survive to return home?
The information about the workings of the canteen were fascinating and the determination of the volunteers made me smile. I hope that the letters included were from actual service members or their families as I found them very moving. The historical details, though interesting, did, at times, seem a bit awkwardly inserted in the story. There were also moments when things were conveyed between characters in a “as you know, Bob (Roberta in this case since most of the characters were women?)” way which came off as artificial.
When Tom first enters the scene, I’ll be honest and admit I found him a teensy bit intense. His letters softened his personality for me and by the end, I liked him. He did hold back something very big from Maggie and I was as flabbergasted as she about it. Yet this did give Maggie time to sit down and rethink her decision to marry him. That plus the talk she had with her friends (whom I liked seeing her former deeper friendships with) helped me accept her decision to spend the rest of her life with a man she’d only met for 15 minutes in person.
As for Maggie, I liked her from the start. I was afraid that she’d be stereotyped as the “spinster librarian” but her character was much more fleshed out. Knowing people who have relatives similar to Maggie’s mother made her easier for me to believe as well as making Maggie’s reactions through the book understandable.
There are some major issues raised in the story which are delicately handled but which also seemed to be ultimately resolved with little repercussions. It was like floating down a river, learning of and hearing rapids in the distance but when you reach them, a gentle push with your paddle keeps you out of danger and they are soon behind you with little fuss.
I liked the plot and the characters but I didn’t love them. Trying to include so much historical detail was nice but the writing was at times awkward to allow for this. There were lots of subplots but after the buildup and resolution, they usually disappeared with little trace. I appreciate learning more about this epic endeavor which touched so many lives during the war but I probably won’t remember much of this book. C+