I haven't read a book that I enjoyed this much in a long time. I say enjoyed, but really it was more like being swept away on the emotional hurricane that is Lt. Rebecca Phillips. The Road Home made me bust out laughing, had me on the edge of my seat with fear and dread, and even made me cry a few times. I hardly ever cry over a book but this one had such an emotional impact I couldn't help but feel every moment of heartbreak, turmoil and even happiness in Rebecca's story.
After losing the love of her life/childhood sweetheart to the Vietnam war and her beloved brother who flees to Canada to escape the draft, Ivy Leaguer Rebecca Phillips impulsively joins as a nurse and is assigned one year of active duty in Vietnam. Still hurting from her profound loss and estrangement from her family, Rebecca is forced to daily face the challenges of the emergency room where she and her co-workers try to save the men (boys really) who have been bombed, shot at, set on fire, or just gotten sick from the various diseases lurking in the jungle. If that weren't enough to mess with someone's head, after impulsively jumping in a helicopter (which she should never have gotten on in the first place) and being shot down over the jungle, Rebecca spends several days MIA in the jungle fleeing for her life until she stumbles upon a squad of American soldiers. Among the soldiers is Michael, a surly grunt, whose letters become a lifeline to Rebecca after her return to the hospital. Michael is so real to me - his fears and glimpses of hope are all contained in his letters and just like Rebecca, I couldn't wait to read his latest. Upon her return from Vietnam, Rebecca comes home to find herself, her family and friends all changed beyond recognition. Her struggle to find her place is the World after being a part of such brutality and pain is what makes Rebecca's story so breathtaking.
White's characters were so solid. Of course I loved Michael but one of my favorites is the cerebral Major, one of the head nurses at the field hospital. Her perfectness is legendary but so is her leniency with Rebecca. I most enjoyed their night time conversations - often requiring major mental gymnastics - where Major Doyle brought such depth and honesty to Rebecca's questions.
I really don't know much about the Vietnam war. It seems to me they sort of glossed over that section in history (it was bad and lots of people died. the end). I knew there was plenty of controversy and that veterans were not treated with respect but I really didn't understand how it all fit together until I read this powerful book. Rebecca's story is full of loss and utter depression but her journey for a chance at happiness and hope was just so real to me.
On a side note, I did feel like I had stumbled into the book mid-series and kept wondering if I was missing something. Turns out I was right. Ellen Emerson White (writing as Zack Emerson) wrote a series of four books called The Echo Company which follows Michael's company. It turns out White felt like she had to finish Rebecca's story (which begins in these books) and thus wrote The Road Home as a sort of conclusion. They are pretty hard to find, but I am hoping to get my hands on what will surley prove to be excellent reading.