From New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini, a bold, revelatory novel about one of the great untold stories of World War I—the women of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, who broke down gender barriers in the military and battled a pandemic as they helped lead the Allies to victory.
“An eye-opening and detailed novel about remarkable female soldiers. . . Chiaverini weaves the intersecting threads of these brave women’s lives together, highlighting their deep sense of pride and duty.”—Kirkus Reviews
In June 1917, General John Pershing arrived in France to establish American forces in Europe. He immediately found himself unable to communicate with troops in the field. Pershing needed telephone operators who could swiftly and accurately connect multiple calls, speak fluent French and English, remain steady under fire, and be utterly discreet, since the calls often conveyed classified information.
At the time, nearly all well-trained American telephone operators were women—but women were not permitted to enlist, or even to vote in most states. Nevertheless, the U.S. Army Signal Corps promptly began recruiting them.
More than 7,600 women responded, including Grace Banker of New Jersey, a switchboard instructor with AT&T and an alumna of Barnard College; Marie Miossec, a Frenchwoman and aspiring opera singer; and Valerie DeSmedt, a twenty-year-old Pacific Telephone operator from Los Angeles, determined to strike a blow for her native Belgium.
They were among the first women sworn into the U.S. Army under the Articles of War. The male soldiers they had replaced had needed one minute to connect each call. The switchboard soldiers could do it in ten seconds.
Deployed throughout France, including near the front lines, the operators endured hardships and risked death or injury from gunfire, bombardments, and the Spanish Flu. Not all of them would survive.
The women of the U.S. Army Signal Corps served with honor and played an essential role in achieving the Allied victory. Their story has never been the focus of a novel…until now.
*Starred Review* Chiaverini (The Women's March, 2021) casts well-deserved light on a little-known group: the women of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. When the United States entered World War I in 1917, these "switchboard soldiers" responded to General Pershing's call for telephone operators to serve near the front lines, connecting calls between military commanders and troops in the field. Women had not yet been given the right to vote, let alone enlist, but the speed and efficiency of the American "hello girls'' far outpaced that of their male military counterparts. Chiaverini seamlessly blends fact and fiction as she illuminates the experiences of these heroic women, many of whom served near the front lines during key Allied offensives, through the perspectives of Grace Banker, a real-life AT&T switchboard instructor who earned a Distinguished Service Medal for her work in the Signal Corps, and her fictional colleagues Valerie DeSmedt and Marie Miossec. In addition to German bombs, the women also contended with the spreading influenza pandemic and rampant sexism. While they were not officially recognized as military veterans until more than 60 years after their service, the women of the Signal Corps paved the way for future generations of women. Chiaverini's many readers will appreciate her latest strong female characters as will fans of Jennifer Egan's Manhattan Beach (2017). Copyright 2022 Booklist Reviews.
Library Journal Reviews
So much new information is packed into this story that becomes the best kind of history lesson. In 1917, Marie in Cincinnati, Grace in New York City, and Vivian in Los Angeles are all young women working a switchboard at their local telephone company. When the U.S. Army Signal Corps sends out a call for experienced operators fluent in French, they were among the few able to pass rigorous enlistment examinations. Once deployed, the women found themselves widely dispersed and facing unique challenges, but always connected. Chiaverini (Mrs. Lincoln's Sisters; "Elm Creek Quilts" series) makes it easy to identify with and care about these women who come from three regions of the United States and have differing familial and cultural backgrounds but share the motivation of patriotism for multiple countries. The dangers of war are neatly integrated into daily lives and geographic locations, and Chiaverini also addresses gender and race inequities and the insidious dangers of the spread of influenza on overseas troop transport. VERDICT Offer supplemental resources for further exploration of these groundbreaking women, and how they were treated after the end of World War I, to keep avid history readers engaged.—Stacey Hayman
Copyright 2022 Library Journal.
Library Journal Reviews
Chiaverini's Switchboard Soldiers chronicles the women of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, who weren't even eligible to enlist in the army but helped facilitate communication on the battlefield as bombs fell around them and pandemic raged during World War I (150,000-copy first printing). French Resistance fighter Elise and German soldier Sebastian fall in love in Occupied Paris and face moral crisis at war's end in Druart's The Last Hours in Paris (45,000-copy first printing). In Kidd's The Night Ship, sad-eyed young Gil is sent to live with his grandfather in a Western Australian fishing community and learns about the 1629 sinking of a ship whose passengers included the newly orphaned Mayken, sailing to what was then the Dutch East Indies (75,000-copy first printing). In Martin's latest, Ava is The Librarian Spy, working undercover in World War II Lisbon to collect intelligence and finding connection through coded messages with Elaine, apprenticed at a press run by the Resistance in Occupied France (150,000-copy first printing). Lock continues his successful "American Novels" series with Voices in the Dead House, which braids together the experiences of Walt Whitman and Louisa May Alcott in Civil War-torn Washington, DC. In Sister Mother Warrior, celebrated Island Queen author Riley conveys the Haitian Revolution through the stories of two women: Marie-Claire Bonheur, the first empress of Haiti, and West African-born warrior Gran Toya (100,000-copy first printing).
Copyright 2022 Library Journal.
Publishers Weekly Reviews
Chiaverini's enchanting latest (after The Women's March) highlights the heroic efforts of a group of women who helped the U.S. war effort during WWI. After the U.S. joins the war in 1917, General Pershing discovers there's a lack of adequate phone service in Europe. The Army then recruits French-and-English-speaking American women as telephone operators to serve in France in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, including Barnard-educated telephone operator Grace Banker, talented French vocalist Marie Miossec, and Belgian-born Valerie DeSmedt from Los Angeles. After undergoing training in New York, the women travel to France by ship, encountering the dangerous waters patrolled by German U-boats. Marie, who met a soldier on the train to New York, keeps writing to him, holding out hope that they may reunite after the war ends. As the women work tirelessly to ensure lines of communication remain open, they discover the meaning of true friendship and the resilience needed to live in sparse quarters while working long hours in less than ideal circumstances. Chiaverini brings her singular characters to life, including real historical figures, as they become united in the quest to serve their country. Fans of historical fiction will be captivated. Agent: Maria Massie, Massie & McQuilkin Literary. (July)
Copyright 2022 Publishers Weekly.