Summary: A post-World War II boarding school is the setting of a classic coming of age story.
I have read a number of Madeleine L’Engle books over the last year or so. Originally I wanted to re-read the Wrinkle in Time series. Which led me to the last two books in the quintet that I had not read previously.
I also ran across Camilla, which along with And Both Were Young, are her two best known books writing in the late 1940s. They are both classic coming of age books. More about what it means to grow up and become and adult than about sexual discovery (which is what coming of age books have come to mean recently.)
Both books dealt with very serious issues and I was surprised that young adult literature of the time allowed. Camilla included issues of divorce, suicide, affairs and more.
And Both Were Young is set in the last 1940s in Switzerland. Philippa (Flip) is sent to boarding school there. Her mother recently died in a car accident and her father is an artist that is going around the world to document children that have been affected by war.
The effects of World War II is clearly a major theme of the book. Girls were on both sides of the war. Many were bombed both in London and Germany. There are children with false teeth and with leg braces as a result of injuries during the war.
There is a note at the beginning of the book from L’Engle’s granddaughter that says that part of the book were removed because they were thought to be too difficult for children, but in 1983 the original text was put back in. I do not know which parts were removed, but my guess is that it was concerning concentration camps, death in the camps by gassing and some other horrors of war. Other young adult oriented Holocaust books like Night by Elie Wiesel (Bookwi.se review) were not published until the mid-1950s and 1960s.
One of the interesting points in the book is the role of being an introvert. It is never specifically brought up, but Flip does not relate to others well in large groups and is desperate to find time to be by herself and think. I wish the point was developed a bit differently. Flip becomes more comfortable with school as she becomes more comfortable with herself. When she begins to like school and be more comfortable around friends the discussion of the desire for alone time and being tongue tied in large groups seems to disappear. This part of the story might have the effect of seeing introversion as disappearing with self confidence, which is not the case. But probably is not unusual in young adult literature, especially from the 1940s.
And Both Were Young is oriented to a slightly younger audience than Camilla. I would be comfortable with teens around 12-13 reading it with some adult discussion and older teens reading it on their own. There is a chaste romance that is a significant part of the book. Both Camilla and And Both Were Young have romance with boys that are broken in some way. And in both cases the romance serves to fix the boys (and to a lesser extent the girls). While I do think that relationships cause us to grow, this can feed into the idea that fixing people is part of dating. I am not sure this is a great message for tween and young teen girls.
On the whole I really liked this book and my concerns are more about the reader than the book itself. I think it was courageous to write a book with these themes so early after World War II.