cover image Just Once

Just Once

Karen Kingsbury. Atria, $27.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-982-10444-3

The underbaked latest from Kingsbury (Someone Like You) centers on a headstrong American spy and the love triangle she negotiates amid the rising panic of WWII. When both are 12, Hank Myers promises to marry his neighbor Irvel Holland someday. Ten years later, in 1941, the two have yet to seriously date, and Irvel is instead going out with Hank’s good-hearted brother Sam. But when Sam enlists in the Army after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he and Irvel break up. Irvel and Hank stay home in Bloomington, Ind., to teach at the local high school, and an undeniable attraction simmers between them, though they’re reluctant to act on their feelings. Before long, math whiz Irvel is recruited by the Office of Strategic Services and begins posing as a nurse on a Navy ship while working as a code breaker, Sam and Hank join the fighting in the Pacific theater, and all three rely on their faith to survive and make it back home, where Irvel and Hank hope to be together. Presented in a series of frame stories—Irvel’s history is discovered by her granddaughter in a series of tapes—the novel is light on historical substance and heavy on melodrama, often abetted by trite dialogue (“I don’t know what happens next,” Hank declares at one point. “I just know... I can’t live without you”). This has heart, but it’s not enough to save the story from falling frustratingly flat. (Nov.)