cover image The Brightwood Code

The Brightwood Code

Monica Hesse. Little, Brown, $18.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-316-04565-0

This gripping psychological thriller features a little-known chapter of WWI history: the story of the Hello Girls, individuals employed by the U.S. Army to operate phone lines in France. In 1918, 18-year-old Edda returns home from her station in France, haunted by a mistake she made that cost her job—and possibly others’ lives. Now, she resides in her aunt’s boardinghouse in Washington, D.C., and works night shifts as an American Bell Telephone operator. One night, she gets a call: “You have to tell the truth before it’s too late,” followed by the ominous secret code, “Brightwood.” Hesse (They Went Left) skillfully portrays Edda’s heightened emotional state and post-traumatic stress, as well as her urgency to untangle a mystery and resolve her guilt. As Edda gathers clues and tracks down possible callers, her sympathetic boardinghouse neighbor Theo joins her search, which adds friendship and romantic tension that brightens her solitary existence. Narrative flashbacks to the harrowing WWI battle zone, interspersed throughout Edda’s richly drawn present day in D.C. and Baltimore (complete with marches for women’s suffrage), tease out the mystery in this worthwhile historical novel. Characters read as white. Ages 14–up. Agent: Ginger Clark, Ginger Clark Literary. (May)