REVIEW: Hula Girls (2022)

A Book by Eric B. Miller

When we first meet Claudia Wyler, she’s no different than most housewives of the era – she keeps the house, cleans, cooks and tries to use information from Women’s Magazines to make her family life better. There is an extra perk of being a Navy Wife stationed in gorgeous Hawaii during World War II, many dream of visiting, and she gets to live there year-round. She is so deep in this home-makers lifestyle, largely due to her husbands directive that she is not allowed to work as “Officer’s wives don’t work”, that she can quote magazine articles like biblical scripture, routinely casually dropping advertising slogans and such as if that’s how a normal person talks. She does have female companionship, but the relationships are somewhat guarded, as officer wives and enlisted wives can and will sometimes cause issues for one-another to a degree that it’s sometimes better to stay to oneself. Right from the get-go, you can tell that this happy storybook life is no more “real” than idealistic TV families of a decade later, and pretty soon Claudia’s world comes crashing down around her.

“Claudia Wyler is a young navy wife living in Hawaii in 1941, striving to be the perfect helpmate to her ambitious husband. She believes devoutly in the dictates of “The Housewife’s Pledge” and embraces the gender roles, social mores, and cultural norms of pre-feminist America. She seeks guidance in The Newlywed Cookbook and Woman’s Home Companion, and finds solace for her failings in the weekly delivery of Life magazine.

Spanning wartime Hawaii to mainland America in the 1950s, Hula Girls presents one woman’s unique perspective on love between men and women, independence and relationships, and the values that continue to fail her. When events overturn her world and she is left without the protections afforded women of the time, Claudia enters a downward spiral of degradation in a struggle for life that becomes a poignant story of obsession, sacrifice, and a mother’s love.”

Truthfully, a book like this is not normally the sort of thing I read, but I was intrigued by the historical setting and promise that it was “not just a romance novel”. That last part was more than true, as Hula Girls is very much not a typical Harlequin-style grocery store book, it is an epic tale of one woman’s survival in one of the most socially turbulent times of this past century. Women were still thought of as housekeepers or baby factories at this time, and Claudia flips this around by doing just about everything women are “not supposed to do.” Becoming a mechanic, a cabaret dancer, and much more to make ends meet, she has some highs and some VERY VERY low lows, but it all makes her stronger.

This was a pretty enjoyable read in the sense that the story was engrossing and I couldn’t put it down at times. That said, It’s honestly fairly dark and a bit depressing at times, but it never becomes any sort of gratuitous exploitation piece. The author does an amazing job of anchoring the reader in the past via the language and pop culture of the time, and for that I was very appreciative of his attention to detail. It’s a longer book that spans decades of Claudia’s life, and honestly would make a great TV show or film if anyone ever decided to adapt it in any way. Hula Girls by Eric B. Miller isn’t for everyone, but if you are like me and take a chance with it, you may be pleasantly surprised.

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