If you could travel back in time to Times Square in New York City, back to the days of World War II, stop in at the USO Canteen, you’d find the protagonist of “Juliana” and her best buddies. But before the US entered the war, Alice (Al) Huffman and her best friend Aggie are fresh out of high school and fresh off the potato farms of Long Island in 1941. They’re headed for Broadway, with stars in their eyes. When they arrive in Manhattan, they meet up with schoolmates Dickie and Danny. It’s not long before Al finds she has no talent. She gets a job, begins acting classes, gets serious about Danny, and then she meets Juliana. Juliana is everything Al isn’t: gorgeous, sexy, talented, married, and queer.
After the day that “will live in infamy” December 7, 1941 and the US was fully engaged, Al and her pals volunteer at the USO. We are treated to vignettes involving Broadway stars of the time, learn which ones were queer, who had a “beard” and who was straight. We are treated to all the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the time.
Author Vanda is a novelist and award-winning playwright. She is creating a multiple volume set of novels which will cover the decades beginning with the 1940s to the present day. She intends to show what life was like for queer people in each period. She has researched extensively, and chose fiction over non-fiction as the better way for her to show her readers lives of queer people over time. We may know “things were tough” for gays and lesbians in the 1940’s, but Vanda creates a world we can relate to, and characters we can think of as our friends.
The first volume in the series is a delight. Al faces all the expected obstacles of a young woman in a big city, plus those facing her as she faces her own forbidden desires. Before the 1970’s, being gay or lesbian was considered a mental illness. Al meets all sorts of queer people as she enters Juliana’s world, each one facing his or her own battles. The everydayness of their lives makes the story believable and intriguing.
Vanda’s research includes not only attitudes, specific places, and the music of the times (this in itself is fun), but all the lingo, the slang, the dances, the clothes will put you right in the groove. Reading “Juliana” truly is time travel, if you let yourself deeply immerse. Put on the radio or a record on the gramophone, and sail away. By the end of this volume, you’ll be aching for the next one.
Published by Booktrope
978-1-5137-0221-6, 367 pp.