It has only been six years since the US military ended its policy of “no women in units that are tasked with direct combat.” And yet, even though it wasn’t officially sanctioned, women have served and fought, in virtually every conflict in which the US has participated. This has been happening since the founding of our country, when Deborah Samson disguised herself as a man so she could fight against the redcoats in the Revolutionary War. During the Civil War, more than 400 women dressed as men to fight; and 150 years later we are finally beginning to learn about them and their stories. In her latest novel, Kelli Estes illustrates just how much has changed for female soldiers, and sadly how little, over the last 150 years in Today We Go Home.
Larkin Bennett wanted to be a soldier from the time she was a little girl. Her family, especially her grandfather, encouraged her, calling her “soldier girl” and telling her she could do anything. When old enough, she enlisted and served two deployments as an M.P. in Afghanistan. Larkin’s dream of being a soldier ended when some well-intentioned, but ultimately devastating, interactions with Afghani locals resulted in an attack that wounds Larkin and kills several members of her team, including her best friend Sarah. Discharged and unsure where else to go, Larkin returns to her grandmother’s home in the Pacific Northwest. Sarah had bequeathed her belongings to Larkin, including Emily Wilson’s Civil War era diary. Emily disguised herself as Jesse Wilson and enlisted in the Civil War to fight alongside her brother in the conflict. It was Emily’s/Jesse’s story that inspired Sarah to enlist in the military, and that same story just may save Larkin’s life.
In Today We Go Home, Kelli Estes, author of The Girl Who Wrote in Silk, tells parallel stories separated by 150 years: one of a young woman’s struggle to fight with the US Army in the Civil War, the other of another young woman’s efforts to navigate the aftermath of serving in Afghanistan. While both of the main characters are Estes’ creations, they represent real women and the very real trauma inflicted on soldiers while, and after, serving our country.
Estes recounts how both women enlisted, served, and then reintegrated back into the general population once their service ended. It won’t be lost on most readers that the experience of serving in the military, and the difficulties that are encountered once that service ends, hasn’t changed much in the time since the Civil War. Yes, women are now allowed to serve in combat situations, but combat has an effect on people, whether or not they were allowed to be fighting. Estes does a marvelous job of conveying the symptoms of PTSD and the difficulties facing veterans as they work toward taking their place in the general populace when they come home. She also highlights that it is often the interactions with civilians at home, that range from wellintentioned to completely clueless, that are often the most difficult to manage.
Today We Go Home is a fascinating and gripping read about the women, both past and present, who serve our country.