Among the Branded by Linda Smolkin is a contemporary fiction that reminds us that we might be done with the past, but the past isn’t done with us. The main character, Stephanie, attends a World War II event (Valor of the ’40s) with her family and purchases a bundle of authentic war letters which she at first believes to be romantic in nature. Her goal is to use them as part of an ancestry website she is building for work, but quickly finds out that the letters are not what they seem. What follows is a thought-provoking journey to reconcile the past with the present, as Stephanie befriends Izzy, a man whose connection to the letters will change both of their lives forever. The book is well-researched, and the historical elements compliment the contemporary setting without getting too bogged down in the details.
The book reads easily and is well-edited, and the supporting cast of characters are interesting and believable. The novel has a steady pace, and I found myself able to get through most long passages comfortably. The story of Steph and Izzy will keep the reader engaged throughout, and without giving away too much, the story reaches a satisfactory conclusion while delivering a clear message. This work allows the reader to view the horrors of war through a modern lens, while attempting to bridge the past and present in a way that is easily approachable. In this way, Among the Branded definitely succeeds.
If there is any criticism to be made about the book it probably lays with the dialogue. There is a lot of dialogue in the book, and characters will often spend entire chapters having just one conversation. This is fine for most of the novel, but there are also a few scenes where it drags on for too long, only to have the conversation end with non-satisfactory conclusion or a cliche. I didn’t think that these few instances were enough to warrant a full-star being deducted, but it was something that was noticeable. If you can be patient through these longer conversations, though, Among the Branded offers something for everyone, and is a book I think most readers will appreciate. I give it 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5.