I am so thrilled to unveil the cover of Band of Sisters (aka the Smith Book) coming your way on March 2nd, 2021!

Here’s the official blurb:

A group of young women from Smith College risk their lives in France at the height of World War I in this sweeping novel based on a true story—a skillful blend of Call the Midwife and The Alice Network—from New York Times bestselling author Lauren Willig.

A scholarship girl from Brooklyn, Kate Moran thought she found a place among Smith’s Mayflower descendants, only to have her illusions dashed the summer after graduation. When charismatic alumna Betsy Rutherford delivers a rousing speech at the Smith College Club in April of 1917, looking for volunteers to help French civilians decimated by the German war machine, Kate is too busy earning her living to even think of taking up the call. But when her former best friend Emmeline Van Alden reaches out and begs her to take the place of a girl who had to drop out, Kate reluctantly agrees to join the new Smith College Relief Unit.

Three weeks later, Kate and seventeen other Smithies, including two trailblazing female doctors, set sail for France. The volunteers are armed with money, supplies, and good intentions—all of which immediately go astray. The chateau that was to be their headquarters is a half-burnt ruin. The villagers they meet are in desperate straits: women and children huddling in damp cellars, their crops destroyed and their wells poisoned.

Despite constant shelling from the Germans, French bureaucracy, and the threat of being ousted by the British army, the Smith volunteers bring welcome aid—and hope—to the region. But can they survive their own differences? As they cope with the hardships and terrors of the war, Kate and her colleagues find themselves navigating old rivalries and new betrayals which threaten the very existence of the Unit.

With the Germans threatening to break through the lines, can the Smith Unit pull together and be truly a band of sisters?

The sharp-eyed may notice that in some places, the blurb reads “Four months later, Kate and seventeen other Smithies… set sail for France” and, in some places, like here, it’s “three weeks later”.  That’s because four months was the length of time between the speech at the Smith College Club and the Unit’s departure.  But Kate only joins the Unit three weeks before they leave.  And since that paragraph is all about Kate, my editor and I realized it sounded kind of misleading, so we changed it to the Kate-centric version.  But, as is the way of things, the changes weren’t made all through.  And that’s why you’ve got two different dates there….

Since this book was drawn SO closely from the actual historical record and the accounts of the real Smith College Relief Unit members, I was a little bit obsessed with exact dates.  I tried to put everything as close to when it actually happened as I could (and when I wiggled things around, I made sure to note it in the historical note).

I am so grateful to the cover designer, Elsie Lyons, for putting in real Smithies (in their real uniforms), real French villagers, and the real Grecourt gates (with ruined chateau in the background).  If you want to know what Band of Sisters is about, you can see it right there on the cover: determined Smith alums in the wasteland of the devastated Somme, jumping in to help the villagers clustering around one of their broken down trucks (with their friends, the aviators, flying overhead, dropping messages to them– being among the very few women in the war zone, the Smith Unit was very, very popular).

This book is my love song to the real Smith College Relief Unit (who were all that amazing), to all girls’ schools, to sisterhood, to working together even when you don’t want to, and to those college friendships that change and grow as you change and grow, coming out stronger for all the growing pains.

I cannot wait to share this book with you, and I hope you love these Smithies as much as I do!

p.s. I’ll be putting together a downloadable book club guide like the one I did for The Summer Country, with pictures, recipes, Q&A, recommended reading, and whatnot, so if there’s anything in particular you’d like to see in there, let me know!

8 Comments

  1. Liz D. on July 28, 2020 at 1:38 pm

    Sounds fabulous – can’t wait to read it!!

    • Lauren Willig on July 31, 2020 at 4:01 pm

      Thanks, Liz!

  2. Julie on July 28, 2020 at 2:23 pm

    It’s a great cover! I’m really looking forward to it.

    BTW, when I watched the movie 1917 recently (highly recommend!), I realized how little I knew of WWI–other than learning about the cause and which countries got involved when way back in high school history class, and the names and dates of the major battles–most of what I know consists of the details in Rilla of Ingleside, as well as LMM’s private journals. After I watched it, I truly got what Walter meant in his letters when he described going into battle as “going over the hill” etc. I certainly never realized fully how the French countryside and little villages were ravaged to such an extent.

    • Lauren Willig on July 31, 2020 at 4:03 pm

      One of the things that fascinated me in reading the Smith women’s letters were how close they were to all that– but what a difference those few miles make. The area they were in was systematically destroyed before they got there, so they’re very involved in rebuilding and village life, but “la guerre” is something that’s happening nearby but not directly to them. They hear bombardments and see dogfights between airplanes all the time, but the first time they actually hear a shell is after they’ve been there for six months already and the Germans push forward.

  3. Lissa on July 31, 2020 at 3:55 pm

    I’d like to see links to the real letter archives or search terms you used to find them, so I can read them. (Im assuming they are on the internet.) They sound really interesting.

    • Lauren Willig on July 31, 2020 at 4:05 pm

      The archives themselves are at Smith College in Northampton and not digitized (the librarians there were amazing about photocopying thousands of pages of material for me!), but you can find excerpts of the letters that were reprinted in the contemporary editions of the Smith Alumnae Quarterly– which is digitized and freely available. The coverage starts in the November 1917 magazine and goes on through the next few: https://saqonline.smith.edu/publication/?m=45764&i=442404&p=2

      • Julie on July 31, 2020 at 5:24 pm

        Thank you for the link! I am definitely interested in looking through those.

  4. Rachel Koehne on July 31, 2020 at 5:16 pm

    I love the little-known corners of history you highlight for us! (with the WWW books, too!) I always trust you to do incredible research and present a story that is not only educating but also well written and fun! 🙂 Congratulations on another book!

Leave a Comment