The Summer Before the War is Helen Simonson’s newest novel that pulls in almost all the expected types of people who would have been affected by the start of the first World War. Beatrice Nash is a well-educated young woman who has just been hired as the first woman to teach Latin at a small grammar school in Rye, England. She needed to find a way to support herself after the death of her father.
Mrs. Agatha Kent acted as her sponsor, encouraging the school to hire Beatrice. She tries to protect Beatrice from petty attitudes of those who are not ready to accept a woman teaching such a serious and important (for the time) subject. Agatha’s nephews, Hugh Grange and Daniel Bookham are part of an extended family, providing Beatrice with encouragement when some of her actions are criticized. The novel is a wonderful depiction of how difficult life could be for a young, single woman when she is forced to earn her own living during this era. The many characters have varied roles in the inevitable war, from diplomat to foot soldier. The novel is an immersion into life in an English town struggling with the start of war.