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While My Heart Beats by Erin McKenzie


Set slap-bang in the throes of the First World War with the suffragette movement in the background, this is an extremely absorbing read.

Eleanor (Ellie) Winthrop is a rich, society girl with a decided mind of her own that refuses to knuckle down and be the person she is “expected” to be by society and especially by her mother. When Ellie runs into a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) sign-up rally, she does so immediately. Johanna Lennox, a nurse from Scotland, has been a nurse in one of the military hospitals for a while. She has little respect and less patience for the VADs whom she sees as entitled rich English girls. She’s none too happy to be assigned mentor to the newest team of VADs and is stern, curt and stand-offish with them. However, Ellie’s hard work and general demeanour win her praise from the tough, though admittedly efficient, Nurse Lennox, and also the moniker Sister Sunshine from the patients. While their professional relationship moves smoothly, Ellie and Johanna are drawn to each other on a deeper level and don’t quite know what it means or where it can go.

Ellie and Johanna are fully realised characters. Somehow, though both are given equal weightage, Ellie is the one who stands out and stays way after you complete the book. She is a much stronger character with more nuances (given her socio-cultural background), more definition and greater strength. Or maybe we just felt that way because her love is true and strong. It is demonstrative and unwavering. It is firm and solid. It is large and expansive. She is the one who refuses to let the relationship die.

Johanna comes from a less fortunate background and has worked hard to earn her place. She is more introverted and suffers from greater self-doubts and self-worth issues. It is easy to see why she would think herself not good enough for Ellie. She’s just very, very lucky that Ellie finds her and inserts herself definitively into her life despite Johanna pushing her away (along with protestations of love). We loved the scene where Ellie has had enough and calls Johanna out (“you mule-headed woman”) asking her for an absolute answer from her about her feelings about them and their relationship.

There is angst in the relationship but thankfully it is not carried too long. The slow-burn is brilliantly done, as is the great chemistry between the MCs. The descriptions of the impact of war bring to fore the futility of hate and war evocatively.

On the whole, this is a good read.    


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