Elmer & Virginia

A World War II Romance in Letters

Non-Fiction - Memoir
490 Pages
Reviewed on 11/24/2021
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Heather Stockard for Readers' Favorite

Elmer and Virginia: A World War II Romance in Letters is a touching collection of the correspondence of John Odell’s parents. They wrote the letters between 1939 and 1944, during which time they were separated by education and then the war. Elmer and Virginia’s letters are by turns funny, touching, and exciting. They reflect both the realities of everyday life in the 1940s and the turmoil and tragedy of WWII. Reading them is like stepping back in time.

Elmer and Virginia wrote as friends at first. Virginia was involved with someone else. Over the course of their correspondence, they quietly fell in love. They became engaged and were married before Elmer was shipped overseas as a fighter pilot. His experiences are fascinating to read about, and his letters are filled with surprisingly frank descriptions of the perils he and his fellow pilots faced. Elmer and Virginia let their personalities shine through their letters: their humor, fears, beliefs, hopes, and dreams. Readers are left feeling as though they knew these people and perhaps even relate to them.

John Odell did a wonderful job organizing the letters and scattering historical details to let readers know what was going on in history as Elmer and Virginia were writing to each other. Odell is a talented writer himself, as his introduction and asides show, but he wisely lets the letters speak for themselves most of the time. History buffs, especially those who specialize in WWII, will find Elmer and Virginia: A World War II Romance in Letters a fascinating and touching read.

Emily-Jane Hills Orford

Letters once told a vibrant story of a life well-lived. Now that digital formats have taken over, we have sadly lost a valuable form of communicating with others, of telling our stories and recording the times in which we live. I enjoy reading through old letters. They were a means of connection in an era when telephone and telegraph connections were costly and not always available and certainly an era with no internet. Elmer and Virginia were from that era: World War II and beyond. Their letters were a means to keep in touch, to carry on a lively conversation, to tell a story, and to profess their ongoing love for one another. The letters are tender, touching, sometimes sad, and sometimes funny. Ultimately, however, these letters are a story – a history of a time long gone.

John M. Odell has collected the letters exchanged between his parents during the difficult, frightening, and definitely turbulent years of the Depression followed by World War II. Elmer spent the war years overseas as a fighter pilot. After 60 missions, an injury sent him stateside and the romance that began through correspondence developed into a lifetime commitment to each other. Odell’s book, Elmer & Virginia: A World War II Romance in Letters, is a selection of his parents’ letters that remained tucked in the back of a closet, undisturbed for years. Each letter is well constructed and a pleasure to read. The stories these letters share will have the reader thinking back nostalgically to a bygone era when letters were important. These letters are a wonderful historical recollection of this era as well as being enjoyable to read. Accompanied by photographs and articles from the period, this is a great addition to the history of life on both sides of the ocean during World War II.

K.C. Finn

Elmer & Virginia: A World War II Romance in Letters is a work of non-fiction in the memoir subgenre. It is suitable for the general reading audience and was compiled and edited by John M. Odell, with the letters included written by the titular Elmer Odell and Virginia Schill. The book contains a sampling of the hundreds of letters exchanged by Elmer & Virginia during the Second World War, giving insight into their relationship and the lives that ordinary people were living during an extraordinary period of world history. With Elmer in the Air Force and Virginia writing for the local paper during this period, the two lovers have a fascinating insight to give on the reality of life during World War II.

This book is a beautiful tribute to two people who are, at once, quite ordinary citizens in their daily lives and at the same time totally extraordinary in their ability to observe and discuss the world around them, as well as their love for each other. Throughout the war, each of them was on a distinctive journey that let them experience the two sides of the war effort: one of them at the battle front, flying combat missions over Europe in a struggle against tyranny, the other reporting on life on the home front to raise morale and celebrate the contributions of those not able to enter the combat zone. John M. Odell has done an excellent job in curating the many letters that the two lovers sent each other in order to form a cohesive narrative spanning the war. Elmer & Virginia is a resounding celebration of the real people who lived through a dangerous and incredible period of history.