Girls on the Line: A Novel by Aimie K. Runyan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
We’ve all heard of the ‘hidden figures’ of America’s space program; the women ‘heroes’ without whose tireless and painstaking work the history of America’s space program would be quite different.
Did you know though that decades before, there was another group of ‘hidden figures’ in America’s history? A group of women whose ‘call to duty’ would not be ignored or set aside.
The brave women who served with the U.S. Army’s Signal Corp in battle-torn Europe during World War I.
In GIRLS ON THE LINE, Aimie K Runyan brings to life, in rich detail and engrossing narrative, the story of the ‘hidden figures’ in American history that predated those of America’s space program. GIRLS ON THE LINE, a beautifully atmospheric set piece, is the story of a group of humble telephone operators in peacetime who became true heroines of World War I. These remarkable women, who more than once put themselves ‘in harm’s way’, undisputedly changed the course of the war and in the process, saved countless lives.
Ruby Wagner is from a prominent Philadelphia family, engaged to be married to the son of another prominent Philadelphia family. Ruby has everything that she could ever want – the comforts of a well-to-do family and the privilege that goes with that – a future of ease and comfort – marriage, albeit an arranged one, to a kindhearted, good and decent man.
Everything she could want.
Except true happiness.
And true love.
As much as Ruby loves her parents, and tries to live up to their expectations, she is also resolved to be ‘her own’ woman and make her own decisions about her life. Part of her ‘strike’ for independence is taking a job, despite her mother’s vehement objections as a telephone operator with Pennsylvania Bell.
When America enters the war, Ruby spends her days working the switchboards, rolling bandages for the Red Cross, and attending social functions where her mother ‘grooms’ Ruby for entry in to Mainline society. And then one day, in a cruel and ironic twist of fate, Ruby’s family receives word that her older brother Francis has been killed on the muddy battlefields of Europe. When Ruby hears that the Army is looking for skilled telephone operators to join the war effort by enlisting in the U.S. Army’s Signal Corp and going to Europe, where their vastly superior skills will be put to the test both behind and at the forefront of the battle lines, she knows in her heart that this is how she will honor her brother, and the countless others who lost their lives.
Not by rolling bandages back home and indulging in all the comforts of being thousands of miles away from the war.
All too soon, Ruby is serving overseas in a forward area, embroiled in intrigue – did someone say “spy in our midst?” – and, unexpectedly, romance.
I’m going to stop here. To say anymore would be venturing into ‘spoiler alert territory’.
Great historical fiction doesn’t just tell a story. It immerses the reader into a particular place and time in history, bringing to life characters and events so realistically that the reader feels they are actually ‘there’.
Aimie has done just that. Replete with the mores and manners of the period, the author weaves narrative and character effortlessly to create a tapestry rich in detail, mood and atmosphere. Her meticulous research lends such a degree authenticity one has to remind themselves that GIRLS ON THE LINE is a work of fiction. Personally, I am half-tempted to travel to the author’s home – that wouldn’t be ‘stalkerish’, would it? – for a peek at the time machine she must surely have hidden away in her garden shed.
My sincere “Thank you” to NetGalley, Lake Union Publishing and the author, Aimie K. Runyan, for a free electronic ARC of this novel.