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Abandoned by her father and neglected by her self-centered, unstable mother, Sheila McGee cannot wait to escape the drudgery of her mill village life in Northern Ireland. Her classic Irish beauty helps her win the 1941 Linen Queen competition, and the prize money that goes with it finally gives her the opportunity she's been dreaming of. But Sheila does not count on the impact of the Belfast blitz which brings World War II to her doorstep. Now even her good looks are useless in the face of travel restrictions, and her earlier resolve is eroded by her ma's fear of being left alone.
When American troops set up base in her village, some see them as occupiers but Sheila sees them as saviors--one of them may be her ticket out. Despite objections from her childhood friend, Gavin O'Rourke, she sets her sights on an attractive Jewish-American army officer named Joel Solomon, but her plans are interrupted by the arrival of a street-wise young evacuee from Belfast.
Frustrated, Sheila fights to hold on to her dream but slowly her priorities change as the people of Northern Ireland put old divisions aside and bond together in a common purpose to fight the Germans. Sheila's affection for Joel grows as she and Gavin are driven farther apart. As the war moves steadily closer to those she has grown to love, Sheila confronts more abandonment and loss, and finds true strength, compassion, and a meaning for life outside of herself.
Maintaining the Northern Ireland setting and nationalistic themes of her debut novel, The Yellow House, Falvey jumps from WWI to WWII. The full scope of the war unfolds through the eyes of Sheila McGee, a mill girl who's grown up with a mercurial mother and an absent father. Now 18, Sheila is the loveliest girl at the mill, a shoo-in to win the annual Linen Queen beauty pageant. She plans to use her winnings to leave her small town, and her mother, forever, but the outbreak of war complicates her plans, as do the two men she finds herself torn between: Joel Solomon, a melancholy Jewish-American army officer, and the moody and possessive Gavin O'Rourke, her best friend. Sheila's pendulum swing from a mildly unlikable self-centered girl with a "beauty is power" guiding philosophy into an idealistic young woman driven into action by the plight of child war evacuees is less than convincing, and extreme characterizations and lapses into melodrama reduce the impact of a novel that otherwise deftly rides the line between a fervently romantic love story and a heartfelt love letter to Northern Ireland.