BRISTOL BOROUGH >> In his newest book, “Till the Boys Come Home,” Bristol Borough author William Pezza takes readers back in time to 1940s Bristol as he tells a story oflove and separation, sacrifice and reward, all set to the backdrop of World War II.
The book is a prequel to his popular “Anna's Boys” and tells the fictional story of Jack Francelli and his girlfriend, Annie Gemello, during World War II.
“It's a celebration of the human spirit that will leave you cheering for the spunk and loyalty of the characters and the small town that nurtured them,” said Pezza.
Set six months before Pearl Harbor while both Jack and Annie are seniors at Bristol High School, the story follows their lives as they graduate, become engaged and then are consumed by the war, Jack as a member of the 82nd Airborne fighting in Sicily, Anzio and Normandy, and Annie on the home front as an employee at the Kaiser-Fleetwing aircraft plant and an advocate for Blue Star families and veterans.
“I think people are going to really like the character of Annie,” said Pezza. “She’s a strong character. She’s a likable character. She’s got spunk. And a little ahead of her time in terms of women’s rights. I think people will like both characters, but I especially think they will like Annie. She faces the war on the home front with the same vigor as Jack does on the battlefield.”
Unlike today with instant communication, during World War II the only source of information about the war were newspaper stories; newsreels shown at the local theater; and letters sent home, which were highly censored and took along time to arrive.
“Annie’s next door neighbor was a veteran from World War I and knew a lot about the military so he would come over to dinner and he would coach her on what to expect,” said Pezza.
Interspersed throughout the broader story are individual vignettes that tie it all together, including a moving scene aboard a train bound for the city and the harrowing jump Jack makes out of a plane while under fire from the enemy.
Throughout the story, there’s plenty of local color as the characters frequent cherished Bristol landmarks from the past and take part in community events, including gatherings on Memorial Day and War Bond drives on the riverfront.
“When you read the book you go swimming at Silver Lake. You walk down Mill Street - the commercial center of Bucks County at the time. Shops were vibrant,” said Pezza who recreates Mill Street through the help of longtime borough residents and historians Harold and Carol Mitchener. “They actually drew me a map of Mill Street with every store in 1941. So as the characters are walking down the street and window-shopping and looking for an engagement ring they are going to the places that were authentic.”
The very ornate and majestic Grand Theater, located next to what is today Discover, Learn and Grow at 420 Mill Street, is also mentioned prominently in the book. During World War II it was a gathering place for people to see a movie and learn about the war by watching a newsreel.
“Frequently, the story takes us to the Grand Theater,” said Pezza.
While most of the characters in the book are fictional, there are some real people, including President Franklin Roosevelt and the mayor and police chief of Bristol at the time.
“If you appreciate romance and being separated from the person you love, thinking about them and wondering what’s going to happen, this is going to appeal to you,” said Pezza. “I think old readers and young readers are going to like it.”
Pezza also sees it as a story that can equate with today’s circumstance.
“We’re living under very difficult circumstances right now. I think this book will be a good reminder that we’ve lived under very difficult circumstances before. And WW II was certainly one of them. Everyone sacrificed and everyone had a role to play. And everyone suffered to a certain extent.
“It’s healthy to be reminded of that and that loyalty, friendship, love and sacrifice are still timeless attributes. People will laugh. People will cry,” said Pezza.
Without giving away the ending, Pezza said “it’s safe to say there is joy and there are tears. You just have to read the book and find out what creates the joy and what creates the tears.”
Copies of the book are $25 each and can be purchased at Great IDs by Anne, Mignoni Jewelry and the Centre for the Arts. A book signing will take place on the patio behind the King George II Inn on Wednesday, August 26 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. The rain date is Thursday, August 27.
“The response has been very good,” said Pezza who released the book on June 30. “We sold out of the first order and we are close to selling out the second. There’s been an enthusiastic response,” he said. “I’ve been mailing them to Florida, Tennessee, all over the place. If anyone wants something personalized, they can contact me through FaceBook as well.”
This is Pezza’s fifth book in a series. His first book was “Anna’s Boys” set in the 1960s followed by “Stealing Tomatoes” set during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and “Home Grown” about the war on domestic terror. He also penned a sixth book, “How Bristol Won,” a nonfiction account of how Bristol won the national Small Business Revolution-Main Street competition sponsored by Deluxe Corporation.