In this beautiful, lively novel of a child growing up in California during World War II, Ella Leffland demonstrates how adolescent characters have a flair for dramatic discovery that benefits a story. Self-conscious, uncompromising, painfully intent on creating a mode for survival, they can be passionate about "life and death" issues that tired adults have learned to ignore. The adult reader might view them with sympathy, amusement or condescension and be caught unawares as the character matures. Tolerance for youth's excesses, hope in its vigor and flexibility can foster responsiveness to the same moral lessons the character is learning.
Suse Hansen, 10 years old when Rumors of Peace begins in 1941, brings to life Leffland's concern with the nature of moral growth. The bombing of Pearl Harbor interrupts her innocence, provoking a child's simple, absolute response - she fears invasion and hates the Japanese. But there are facts that do not fit into this primitive conception: her liking for the Japanese-American Mr. Nagai, the forced departure of her best friend from town because his mother is Italian-born.As the war continues, Suse struggles to make sense of the seemingly contradictory world around her. She feels relief when she realizes that her home will not be bombed and then suddenly remembers the dead she has read about, feels a connection with them:
"It was too much to know, too painful, too pitiful, too huge and boundless, and why should I have to see such a thing now...For these terrible ripples would go on forever...even if my own yard were never bombed, even if only good things happened to me for the rest of my life."
Through such musings Suse evolves an increasingly complex, humane view of life. Some of this is the normal consequence of growing up. Sparkling scenes depict her feelings for her family and nature, her burgeoning sexual awareness and her friendships. In junior high she meets sleazy, cheerful Eudene, whose enormous flesh in the school something secret and unexpected." She also discovers ness for the calculated power of being popular at school, and her older sister Helen Maria, a student of Greek at Berkeley. Brisk, grand, exaggerated yet true, Helen Maria introduces Suse to a new world of ideas and culture, encouraging her to think. Through her Suse also meets Egon, a Jewish refu
These characters are as much a part of the book as the war is, for Leffland writes of all the facets of the heart and mind, of humor, pleasure and warmth as well as pain. She is concerned not so much with war itself as its effects, its implications for people far removed from the fighting.
War is as real an influence in Suse's civilian life as it would be were of her existence. At times it becomes an open metaphor, as at a junior high school dance: "I looked around at these chatting girls huddled for courage, and it seemed that there was no pleasure here at all, but that it was a battlefield of fear and pain and unpleasant, frightening images and irritating questions: Why do diplomats argue with detached elegance while soldiers die? Why do some people persecute others? Why does mankind repeat the mistakes of war? Finding no answers from adults, she attacks these questions with her own curiosity, stubbornness end comes as a shock. From Suse's matured viewpoint this is no victory, but another madness, a new set priate, since there are no pat answers to the serious the thoughtful exploration that someone like Suse carries on, and what it has to teach us about the human potential for compassion, hope and moral growth.