Georgia Lowe’s, The Bonus, is a work of historical fiction, which offers an eye-opening glimpse into the little known series of events involving the , a collection of World War I veterans, who came from all across the country to gather before Congress and demand the wartime service bonuses that they had been promised years before. This story of systemic neglect of veterans, hard economic times, and the consequences of a failed presidency, is more relevant than ever.
The Bonus recalls the story of Will Hardy, a reporter with recurring shell shock, who arrives with the Los Angeles contingent of the Bonus Army. In the grip of the Great Depression of 1932, fueled by unemployment, hunger and homelessness, 22,000 defiant veterans settle before Congress vowing to stay until 1945 if necessary, until they are given their service bonuses.
Lowe grew up around LA and Hollywood with Bonus Marcher parents in an environment where veteran issues were a part of everyday family conversation. She spent ten years researching for this book, with multiple trips to Washington and the Library of Congress. She currently lives in a small community on the Eastern slope of the California Sierra where she is hard at work on both a prequel and a sequel to The Bonus.
I can honestly say that when I first received this book, and looked at the cover, I thought it was going to be boring. So my friends, here is another reason why you NEVER judge a book by it's cover! The cover has a couple of black and white pictures, that are real photos from the Bonus March on Washington, D.C. If I would have come across this book on a bookstore shelf, I'm sorry to say I probably would have passed it up. However, I was lucky enough to be requested to read and review The Bonus for the author, and I'm so glad that I had the chance to read what it was really about!
I was about twenty pages into this novel and I was completely hooked. Georgia Lowe was able to incorporate not only the physical suffering of soldiers who had returned from WWI, but also the mental/emotional sufferings. P.T.S.D. was not something that people knew about, and men were expected to be "men" and just "get over it." Not only did these men (and some women) see terrible things during WWI, but when they returned it was as though the government had forgotten what they had done for their country! The men were promised a bonus for fighting overseas, but it was not payable until 1945. However, it was the year of 1932, and the people of the country were now fighting The Great Depression, so they were lobbying in order to get their Bonus at present, rather than wait until 1945. Part of the argument to get the bonus early was that it would help to stimulate the economy, which would in turn alleviate the pressure of the Great Depression on some of the American people. Lowe also did an amazing job of incorporating a love story into this book without making it a romance novel.
Anyways, as the story goes, the main character Will (who is a reporter) follows a man named Royal Robertson, who is the leader of the L.A. contingent of veterans; as well as several hundred other men across the country to march on Washington and demand their bonuses. The descriptions by Lowe of what the people who marched on Washington went through was heart breaking. These men had risked their lives, and lost friends and family to WWI, but the government (namely President Hoover) would not pay them the money they had earned because American "didn't have it." The living conditions were horrifying, and the way these men and women were treated was worse than animals. The way the government handled the evacuation of thousands of men, women, and children from the Bonus Camps was shocking. Many of the men and women suffered from PTSD, as well as lacked nutrition and proper clothing. In order to evacuate the veterans and their families, President Hoover and General MacArthur set the Army upon them. They were treated like the enemy, not at all like the heroes that they truly were. They were removed through violence, and tear gas was even thrown into crowds of veterans and their families.
I read this book in two days, because I could not put it down! Anyone who is interested in the early 20th century, or in WWI will love this book. I had never even heard of the Bonus March on Washington until reading this novel. It's such a huge part of history, so it makes me wonder why I had never heard it mentioned in any of my History courses, high school or college level. Georgia Lowe did an amazing job at pulling me into this novel, and also endearing me to the characters. Will and his love Bonnie are such real people, and you don't know until the end of the novel what happens with them, but you're rooting for them the entire time. Also, Will's friends, who he meets while traveling to D.C., are men that as a reader you can't help but care about them and what happens to them.
I would 100% recommend this book. The only negative thing I have to say about this novel is that the cover is boring. The pictures on the cover are interesting, but it makes you think, as a reader, that the book is a history novel, not an amazing story of love and perseverance. I do think the cover would deter some people from buying it. As I said before, it was the perfect example of the phrase, "Don't judge a book by it's cover!"
I would definitely give this novel 4 out of 5 stars!