A solid historical YA novel, The Farmerettes derives its name from groups of young women, most at the end of their high school careers, who volunteered to work on farms during the world wars to grow food for the nation, troops and overseas countries. This book’s particular setting is in Canada during World War Two – the summer of 1943, to be specific – and the story is told from the perspective of six different young women: Jean, whose family owns the farm; Helene, who works to support her mother and younger siblings; Peggy, who works to keep her heritage a secret; Isobel, a prim princess with a soldier fiancé overseas; Binxie, who is trying to prove herself amidst her life of privilege, and the unnamed X, a secretive artist who is escaping the rumours in her hometown.
It’s a very interesting period of history to explore, and I’m always fascinated by the lives of women and how they changed so dramatically during this time. These girls performed backbreaking work, and the author really makes you feel their aches and pains from crouching down in a field all day to pick strawberries, perching up in trees to harvest peaches, hauling about equipment to plough fields and pull weeds, and cooking meals to feed a huge number of hungry people.
I have two specific complaints about the book though: firstly, the initial chapters for each character were so short that it was like skimming through the thoughts of six people very quickly – it was hard to get any feel for their individual characters until much later on in the book. Secondly, the chapters for girl X, who is struggling with her attraction to other girls, were unfortunately one dimensional. I think it’s a shame, because it was an interesting perspective to explore, especially considering the time period, but each of her chapters simply consisted of pining for another farmerette and alternately berating herself – we got barely any insight into her history or personality, and as a result she became more of a caricature than a character.
Despite this, I think the author provided a very authentic depiction of life at the time – she throws in mentions of the music and books of the day, the girls’ favourite treats, activities for time off, and potential career options. I certainly was a fan of the sisterhood that developed, in the midst of turmoil and exhausting days – when family and fiancés failed, friendship reigned.
ARC received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.