When the World Was Young

When the World Was Young

A Novel

Book - 2014
Average Rating:
Rate this:
Wally Baker is no ordinary girl. Living in her grandparents' Brooklyn Heights brownstone, she doesn't like dresses, needlepoint, or manners. Her love of Wonder Woman comics and ants makes her feel like a misfit--especially in the shadow of her dazzling but unstable mother, Stella.
Acclaimed author Elizabeth Gaffney's irresistible novel captures postwar Brooklyn through Wally's eyes, opening on V-J day, as she grows up with the rest of America. Reeling from her own unexpected wartime tragedy and navigating an increasingly fraught landscape, Wally is forced to confront painful truths about the world--its sorrows, its prejudices, its conflicts, its limitations. But Wally also finds hope and strength in the unlikeliest places.
With an unforgettable cast of characters, including the increasingly distant and distracted Stella; Loretta, the family's black maid and Wally's second mother; Ham, Loretta's son, who shares Wally's enthusiasm for ants and exploration; Rudy, Wally's father, a naval officer, away serving in the Pacific; and Mr. Niederman, the family's boarder, who never seems to answer Wally's questions--and who she suspects may have something to hide--Elizabeth Gaffney crafts an immersive, beautifully realized novel about the truths that divide and the love that keeps us together.
Praise for When the World Was Young
"Elizabeth Gaffney's wonderful, richly imagined novel When the World Was Young cheers the power and resilience of a society-bucking young woman." -- Vanity Fair
"Gaffney's heroines are brave and flawed (in a good way)." -- Marie Claire
"[A] smart, sensitive historical novel . . . driven by fast-paced storytelling." -- O: The Oprah Magazine
"Devastating and compelling." -- Elle
"Richly textured . . . Gaffney transports us." -- Reader's Digest
"Lyrical." -- New York Post
"Gaffney provides a lovingly told story of a time and a place and a house New Yorkers will recognize, if only in the mind's eye." --New York Daily News
"A riveting coming-of-age story . . . a mesmerizing tale." -- Historical Novels Review
"A charming and incisive tale . . . profound." -- Booklist
"[A] layered, delicate novel." -- Publishers Weekly
"A smart coming-of-age tale . . . lively . . . world-wise." -- Kirkus Reviews
"This compelling family drama features an intriguing cast of characters who are well drawn and realistic, while also being emblematic of their time. Gaffney's writing is graceful and leisurely paced, flavored with nostalgia." -- Library Journal

"In this beautifully written novel--an honest and irresistible ride through post-World War II America in all its glory and its shame--Elizabeth Gaffney explores mothers and daughters, upstairs and downstairs, loveless marriages and passionate affairs, without ever losing her story or the fabulous characters that inhabit it." --B. A. Shapiro, New York Times bestselling author of The Art Forger
Publisher: New York : Random House, [2014]
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9781400064687
Branch Call Number: GAFFNEY
Characteristics: x, 298 pages ; 25 cm


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Quote

Jun 30, 2015

"Once, when the world was young, our planet had no people on it...The Earth was beautiful, but the Great Maker wasn't satisfied...the Maker all but forgot about the Earth, until one day a spirit child---...sneaked out of her proper place to go exploring...She invented all the forms of life..., one by one, with all their wonder and imperfection. And though it was not flawless,...the spirit child had started something beautiful in motion,...and you and I are part of it." (Part III, Chapter 35, Beatrice)

Jun 30, 2015

"...Wally found she had strong opinions about the news. She didn't understand why Ham--or any American--had had to risk his life for the sake of another country...Wally had come increasingly to question the point of conflict."

Jun 29, 2015

"Every time she heard someone shout 'Victory in Japan,' she pictured a young mother with narrow eyes and sallow skin--a woman who except for the fact they were enemies, was like her: conflicted, grief-stricken, filled with love for her surviving children but resentment for her absent soldier-husband. And then, in a flash of light, she was gone. Burned to death. Was the woman grateful to be relieved of her complicated life? No. She was nothing anymore. It was an evil way to win the war was what Stella thought. She didn't approve of the atom bombs they had used, but she couldn't say that, not to anyone. Except, perhaps, Bill."

Jun 29, 2015

"...Wally's mother finally tiptoed over throught the debris and took Wally in her arms, kissing her on the top of her head. 'I'm sorry darling. I just...reacted. I'm sorry I killed her.' 'Oh, Mommy, I wanted you to see her, to like her,' Wally cried, wrapping her arms around her mother. There were some things, she realized then, that ought not to be seen." (from Chapter, The Queen)


Add a Comment

Oct 02, 2014

Elizabeth Gaffney has written an extraordinary novel of family relationships and love in the throes and aftermath of war. And it's not war that tears them apart. This is an inspiring tale that in the end, leaves a tug on the heart.

Aug 31, 2014

I found it took me a few chapters to get into this novel but once I did, I found it hard to put down.

Unforgettable characters and great story line made this a good read.


Add Age Suitability

Jun 29, 2015

QnVz thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at Arapahoe Libraries

To Top