The Bungalow – Sarah Jio
Reviewed by – Sheri de Grom
The Bungalow begins with a brief prologue wherein the main character, Anne Calloway, is dreaming of sandy beaches and coconut palms. It’s a place she loves to visit often in her mind now that she’s entered the afternoon of her life.
Jennifer, Anne’s granddaughter, interrupts her dreaming with the delivery of a letter from a place where Anne had been so long ago. A place where Anne discovered there was more to her best friend Kitty than she could have ever imagined, a place where a bungalow was cursed but that couldn’t stop Anne from meeting a lover there, and where witnessing a gruesome crime led to a lifetime of unresolved grief.
As The Bungalow begins Anne—always the proper young woman living by Seattle, WA, society rules—has just finished her nursing degree. She’s living a quiet, respectful life with her well-to-do parents and is engaged to Gerard Godfrey, the son of the wealthiest family in town.
Kitty, Anne’s best friend, wants to explore life and shares with Anne the passion she’s experienced with a married teacher. Anne is shocked. Kitty reminds Anne that if she marries Gerard, she’ll never know real love or real passion.
Anne wouldn’t dream of telling Kitty how she really feels. She’s happy in her relationship with Gerard, yet she’s heard there should be chemistry.
. . . Pg 16 [In truth, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I’d chosen nursing because it was in stark contrast to everything I’d grown to detest about the lives of the women I knew—Mother, who devoted herself to luncheons and the current state of ladies’ hemlines, and my school friends, who had spent months luxuriating in Paris or Venice upon high school graduation, with nary a worry, save finding a rich husband so they could perpetuate the lifestyles of their work.] . . .
Anne’s wedding is just weeks away and Gerard’s family is hosting a party to formally introduce her to their friends. The wedding party was to be present at the celebration, but Kitty, the maid of honor, is missing and Anne’s worried.
A few hours later, Anne sees Kitty waving at her from a corner of the garden where the party is being held. Kitty tells Anne she won’t stay in Seattle. Anne can’t stand the thought of never having an adventure of her own. Her wedding will have to wait. Together, days later the two young women join the Army Nurse Corps. Two weeks later they land on the South Pacific island of Bora Bora.
Kitty has a way with men and soon attracts the attention of Colonel Donahue, commander of the base. Anne is concerned there’ll be trouble ahead for Kitty.
The way of life on Bora Bora, requires adjustment—especially becoming accustomed to the islanders and the soldiers stationed there—but Anne’s days are busy and she’s soon at home.
Anne catches the eye of West, a soldier who loves art and loves the island. Anne didn’t plan on falling in love with another man. She discovers her relationship with Westy is how love is supposed to feel.
Anne finds herself asking some tough questions. Why has her finance, Gerard, sidestepped the war and remained protected at the bank he’ll take over some day? He doesn’t have to go to war but isn’t it the honorable thing to do? Is he less of a man than Westy?
A few passion-packed months pass for Anne and much happens: she learns her mother is leaving her father as he’s been having an affair with their housekeeper for years. Anne and Westy spend every possible moment together at an island bungalow that has supposedly been cursed, Westy and Anne witness the murder of an island woman, Kitty is becoming more and more distant, mail arrives informing Anne that Gerard is now fighting the war in France, and worst of all, Westy is shipping out to Guadalcanal immediately.
Many of the nurses on Bora Bora, along with Anne, have fallen in love with soldiers and want to spend the rest of their lives with them. The sudden departure to Guadalcanal presents heartbreaking news.
Anne leaves breakfast when the announcement about the immediate deployment comes over the speakers and runs as fast as she can to the bungalow where she and Westy have spent many magical moments. Due to their vastly different schedule they often leave notes for one another using code names, under a floorboard.
. . . Pg 134 [I lifted the floorboard and my heart warmed when I saw a letter inside. My darling Cleo, I have to leave now, my dear. I am shipping out to Guadalcanal for what the CO calls “serious combat.” The men don’t know what to expect, nor do I. After all, we’ve been sitting pretty on this rock for so long. We were almost fooled into thinking we were on vacation. It’s about time we fulfill our jobs, to do what we came here for. To fight.
I stopped by the infirmary this morning to say good-bye, but you were busy, and I hated to disturb you. I watched you work from the window for a few minutes. My, you are beautiful. The way you move. The way you talk. I have never loved as I love you.] . . .
Secondary stories abound in The Bungalow by Sarah Jio. Anne’s best friend Kitty is distant, sneaky, and harbors secrets about her love life and other circumstances surrounding every facet of her existence.
It’s time for the nurses to return home to the states. Westy and the other men will ship out for another tour of duty. This time they’re going to France.
Anne knows she’ll have to face Gerard when she arrives home. She’s returning a changed woman.
Kitty becomes devoted to her work on Bora Bora and announces she’s not leaving the island to return to the states. She’s changed so much, there’s no going home for Kitty. Later she joins a group headed for Normandy.
Anne arrives in Seattle to learn that Gerard has made it home.
. . . Pg 215 [Gerard closed his eyes tightly. “Don’t tell me,” he said, shaking his head. “Please don’t.”
I nodded. “I understand. But there’s something I need to do, before the wedding.”
“I need to go away,” I said. “Just for a while.”
Gerard looked pained, but he didn’t protest. “And when you return, will you be yourself again?”
I looked deep into his eyes. “It’s why I need to go,” I said. “I need to find out.”
He looked away. My words had hurt him, and I hated that. His left arm, the bad one, hung from his torso, limp, lifeless. He didn’t like wearing the sling when we went out. “Anne,” he said, clearing his throat. His voice faltered a little, and he paused to regain his strength. Gerard never cried. “If this is what it takes. If there’s a chance I can have your whole heart again, I will wait.”] . . .
I didn’t want the time for Anne and her friends to end on Bora Bora but it had to. World War II was going on and bigger challenges were ahead. I was transported back in time to an era that’s still romanticized today.
Sarah Jio’s characters are real, the dialogue and actions of each are believable. In a time of war and uncertainty it’s easily understood how morality slips away and the characters live in the moment. They know tomorrow might never come. It’s easy to excuse fictional characters their trespasses. I often thought of morality issues as I read this book and wished I had a book club to discuss many of the issues presented therein.
I recommend The Bungalow without hesitation and rest assured, you are guaranteed a happy ending.