Bluebird: A Novel

Image of Bluebird: A Novel
Release Date: 
April 5, 2022
Simon & Schuster
Reviewed by: 

This moving tale commences in the present time with Cassie Simmons, the assistant curator at the Maison François Baby House Museum in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. She is concluding her work duties looking forward to relaxing at home when a dust-covered stranger arrives. Curious about his presence, she notices he holds an old whiskey bottle. He hopes to gain information about its history.

The man introduces himself as Matthew Flaherty, mentioning he bought property outside of town and is renovating an old house. When she questions where he got this bottle—still full of liquid and bearing the label, "Bailey Brother's Best, 1920,"—he states it was inside a wall he knocked down.

Cassie's curiosity is piqued. An avid fan of history and mysteries, she is eager to learn more. She remembers her grandmother telling stories about Prohibition, where rumrunners transported illegal liquor over the river to Detroit. Her most noteworthy tales had been about the Bailey brothers, John and Jeremiah, who were tunnellers in World War I and became bootleggers afterward.

Then we segued back to 1918 Belgium. Jeremiah Soldier "Jerry" Bailey and John plant mines and tunnels at the enemy's location, but after an explosion, Jerry is severely injured and transported to a field hospital. There he meets Adele Savard, a nurse "sister" from Canada. Called "Bluebirds," they donned blue gowns and white caps, and though many are nuns, Adele is not.

Adele feels a particular empathy for Jerry with the horrific wounds he suffered, most notable, the ravaging of his face. The two form a friendship, particularly upon learning they are Canadians from towns not far from each other, giving them the chance to reminisce about home.

While Adele works tirelessly to tend to the many wounded, she also forms lasting friendships with three other Canadian nurses. They become kindred spirits, and when the time is available, they manage to alleviate some of the pain and horrors of the battlefield by being together.

War is hell, and Adele is unprepared for it. However, she takes her patients under her wing, diligently and compassionately caring for each patient, even though she realizes many will die. Hoping to provide her best care for the soldiers, Adele questions herself:

"Would she have come if she'd know the devastation that awaited her? She'd asked herself that question many times over the last three years, wondering if she was as courageous as her family claimed. The answer was always yes. Unequivocally yes. Despite everything she'd seen and done, she'd come back here if she was needed. As much as Adele hated everything about this place, it is exactly where she is supposed to be, and that knowledge never failed to boost her from whatever dark place enveloped her. That and the loyal camaraderie between her and her friends."

Once healed enough, Jerry is sent back to the front line, reunited with his older brother John, with whom he shares a fierce kinship. Though Jerry tells Adele he plans to meet up with her and take her dancing after they get back home, they both wonder if this will happen.

The war is finally over, and Adele returns to live with her parents. Though her married sister advises her not to go back there, stating the bootleggers have made the town a dangerous place, Adele wants to be home. Ernie Willoughby, a wealthy businessman, is besotted by her and starts courting her, taking her to fine restaurants. At first, she is entranced by him until she sees his true side, which becomes evident when he has a competitor of his beaten to near death.

Adele, working for a doctor, is at his clinic where Jerry discovers her after breaking up the fight, having Adele tend to the man's wounds. After a few long years apart, they are thrilled to find each other and resume their friendship. Ernie and Jerry have a shaded history, and Ernie becomes hostile when Jerry steals Adele, who he claims is his girl.

The novel concludes in the present time, where Cassie discovers clues to long-ago family secrets, giving her insight into her heritage and the possibility of a chance at love.

Bluebird contains the atrocious and frightening facts of combat while showing that those who played a part in the fighting—as well as caring for the wounded—were true heroes. The reader gets an in-depth glimpse at how difficult times were in the early 1900s and the struggles people faced by war and the pandemic that wiped out many lives. Highly suspenseful and stirring, this novel is sure to be enjoyed by history buffs.