Author: Lena Andrews
Reviewed by Chloe Fuksa
If you’re going to read a non-fiction book about World War II, you probably can’t go wrong when the author is a military analyst for the CIA. Lena Andrews released her debut in August 2023, focusing on the part that women played in winning the war. Pulling from extensive research, as well as in-person interviews with the veterans themselves, Andrews shines light on the more than 350,000 women who served.
Valiant Women is very well organized, with Part I seemingly focused more on the different branches of the military and how the women were brought in – the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), for example, the WAVES for women in the Navy, and the SPARS for the Coast Guard. Then, Part II describes many of the different jobs that women performed, everything from administrative and clerical work to ferrying pilots and battlefield nurses.
What Andrews does best is she focuses on a specific woman, her background and her job in the war, then zooms out a little to talk more about that general line of work, then zooms out further to situate the woman and the work in the larger context of the war and the battles underway. Mary Sears, for example, grew up with a fascination of amphibians and oceanography, which turned into working at the Navy’s Hydrographic Office, which needed to know such things as the location of “propeller-fouling kelp” for landing sites in the Pacific.
There were a few instances where the writing was a little repetitive, re-using certain phrases, but Andrews’s research is thorough, and she doesn’t shy away from things either. She talks about the blatant sexism and hostility that the women dealt with, as well as the racism and segregation that Black women had to face on top of that. Excluding the notes and sources at the back, the book comes in right under 300 pages, so that, coupled with the relatively short chapters, makes Valiant Women a very approachable read. This November, while we’re thanking our veterans for their service, you can read a really wonderful account of how hundreds of thousands of women helped lead us to victory.
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