At first glance, Til the Boys Come Home and The Ten-Cow Wives’ Club would seem to have little in common. The first is an epic novel of World War I, while the second is a humorous contemporary light read. Nonetheless, they both have important and powerful things to say about friendship and they both do it well.
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Jerry Borrowman begins Til the Boys Come Home in Pocatello, Idaho with a fifteen-year-old boy, Danny O’Brian, who loves to run. He is the son of a domineering, railroad union-rep father and the younger brother of a bully. His mother is of little consequence in their home. Danny loves to run, but his greatest love is music, which his father and brother consider unimportant and only for sissies. Danny is beaten in a race by the new kid in town, Trevor, the son of the railroad’s new general manager.
To Danny’s surprise, the new general manager, Jonathan Richards, is a member of the Church and is called to be the teachers’ quorum advisor. After the rocky start of Danny and Trevor’s relationship and Danny’s father’s negative attitude toward Jonathan, the boys become close friends and a tight bond forms among all of the boys in the quorum and their advisor. Danny spends a great deal of time with Trevor and at his home. They attend different colleges but remain fast friends. With the United States’ entry into World War I, Trevor joins the Army Air Corp and Danny winds up in infantry.
Borrowman does a superb job of portraying life, including the values and prejudices of the early twentieth century. He brings a realism to that period that is slower and more innocent than teens experience today, yet the reader is led to an awareness of and learns to care about the hopes and dreams of these soon-to-be-men, who live in a time when automobiles are still new and airplanes are little more than toys. School, careers, parental conflict, and growing testimonies are all part of those growing years which are portrayed in a sympathetic manner.
The war changes the dreams and directions of these young men’s lives, and along with the changes comes a loss of innocence and new questions about life, God, and the friends’ places in a very different world from the one in which they grew up. Borrowman excels in describing the preparations for battle and the agonizing circumstances of war. His pacing is excellent as he takes the reader from a slower, small town friendship between young boys to the hectic uncertainty of the war-torn relationships of men.
There are a number of poignant scenes in this book and many sensitive readers will find themselves wiping away tears, but the greatest sadness seems to be something that is never stated directly. The idyllic youth, the grand adventures, and the innocence are gone forever, wiped away by the horrors of war; only their friendship will endure through eternity.
Til the Boys Come Home is a book to be savored again and again. It is one of those novels that puts history into perspective and brings the past alive in an unforgettable way. The only drawback I found is the book’s almost complete avoidance of female characters. Trevor has a girlfriend while he is at Stanford (before he joins the Army Air Corps), but the relationship is so low-key that it is almost nonexistent. After the war, a few of the small group of friends have wives, but we learn little about them and they play no real role in the novel. Writing about a group of men over a decade of time, beginning when they are fifteen, feels unreal without the inclusion of their interest in and relationships with women. Trevor’s mother is the only female character of any substance in the entire book.
There is much to commend in this book. It is filled with adventure and history, the characters feel real and are well-developed, but the element that comes through the strongest for me is the slow growth of friendship, the loyalty and commitment between friends, and the long term endurance of friendship. This book is definitely a keeper.
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Joni Hilton’s The Ten-Cow Wives’ Club is written in her usual humorous style, but leaves the reader with a serious message concerning friendship and the value women place on themselves as individuals, as wives, and as mothers. The title is taken from the popular Johnny Lingo movie concerning an eight-cow wife. The club consists of five women who meet regularly for lunch. Four of them have been friends since childhood and the fifth is an older woman they meet as young adults and discover she fits in beautifully with their little group.
The women meet to share stories about their seemingly average lives and to bolster each other through the births of their babies, life’s triumphs and challenges, their marriages, and one divorce. Their testimonies, their income, and their goals in life are not the same, yet they share the strongest bond of all; they care about each other and they are there for each other through their children’s programs and recitals, waywardness, and growth.
Sometimes women are lucky enough to have sisters with whom they form this kind of bond, but for many in this mobile world, the lifelong support group Hilton describes is formed by friends. Women are strengthened and sustained by other women when they have each other to turn to for help in times of crisis, to laugh with through life’s quirks, and spiritually hold onto through the hard times. Hilton does an excellent job of creating diverse personalities and giving the ups and downs of life both a funny bent and a serious side. She lets the reader glimpse the growth and maturing of young adult women into mature stalwarts in their homes, the Church, and their communities.
The only part of the book I didn’t care for is an element that will endear it even more to many readers. It has recipes. I’m not fond of mixing fiction and cookbooks together, but I’ve heard from many readers who love this combination. I’m not sure why, but for those who do, this book will be a winner.
In a time when most people have acquaintances instead of friends, there is much to learn from both Borrowman and Hilton concerning the benefits and obligations of true friendship. They both express a view that life is richer and more fulfilling for those who make the time to form and cultivate enduring friendships.