Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “When the World Was Young” as Want to Read:
When the World Was Young
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

When the World Was Young

3.42  ·  Rating Details ·  490 Ratings  ·  122 Reviews
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 Wal
Hardcover, 298 pages
Published August 5th 2014 by Random House (first published January 1st 2006)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about When the World Was Young, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about When the World Was Young

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Angela M
Jun 28, 2014 Angela M rated it liked it
Thanks to Random House Publishing Group and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book.
I love reading a book where a character owns my heart right from the very beginning. This is how I felt about Wally Baker, as she marched the streets of Brooklyn Heights celebrating V-J day in 1945. Even at seven, Wally is smart and feisty and you begin to care about what is going to happen to this little girl as you learn of th
May 15, 2014 Leila rated it it was ok
Elizabeth Gaffney's "When the World Was Young," set for release in August 2014, is a novel that I wanted to like. The setting in 1940s and '50s Brooklyn Heights seemed interesting, and the advance praise seems to promise a meaty book about passion, secrets, prejudice, and the connections between upstairs and downstairs worlds. But unfortunately, I found the book rather flat, with lackluster characters and an often tedious plot.

The story centers on a girl named Wally growing up in Brooklyn durin
Jun 10, 2014 Doreen rated it it was ok
Shelves: elle
What this book has: an interesting premise, a setting ripe for exploration, a diverse cast of characters and viewpoints.

What this book doesn't have: narrative tension, any sense of suspense or exploration of characters' motives.

It's essentially a catalog of events in the life of one family from the end of World War II till well into the Korean War. This thing happened, then this thing happened, and only the briefest of explanations is given for why, with nearly zero look at the feelings or reaso
Kelsey Crump
Aug 13, 2014 Kelsey Crump rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for an honest review.

I was really excited about reading this book when I read the plot summary for When the World was Young. But, when I started reading, I was sadly disappointed.

The book lacked organization in a big way. For the first five chapters or so, I couldn’t figure out who was the main character, Wally or her mother, Stella. It did become clear shortly thereafter but the skipping around of whose point of view within the chapters made it con
Apr 16, 2015 Terri rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: edelweiss, 4-stars
Review also found at

I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher Random House via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. The expected publication date is August 5, 2014.

This is not going to be a long review because I feel this is one of those stories that needs to tell itself rather than me sharing my thoughts about it. It was a wonderful story that follows Wally from the time of her childhood until young adulthood. It tells the tale o
Feb 25, 2015 Maggie rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2015
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 25, 2016 77mswoods rated it liked it
This was a solid book! I liked the generational storyline. And of course, the fact that it was set in and around my neighborhood- I felt at times that the author tried a little too hard with metaphors, and the ending was a bit unbelievable- I actually think the better storyline might have been to pick up at the book's end. But all in all, it was a fast read that I don't at all regret!
Jan 07, 2015 Anne rated it it was ok
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and the publisher for an honest review.

I don’t understand what happened here. The first chapter of When the World Was Young was interesting, well written and had me looking forward to the story. But somehow, somewhere along the line, what held my attention vanished and I was left with cold, unfeeling facts about ants.

Wally pretty much grows up like an orphan after the end of WWII — her mother commits suicide and her father basically abandons her to g
Jan 09, 2015 Chaitra rated it did not like it
I got quite frustrated with this book. It was all over the place, jumping from time to time and from pov to pov, most times within the same chapter. At first I hardly figured out what was going on, and then when I got the hang of all the jumping around, it still didn't get less than annoying. I think some re-ordering of paragraphs and sentences within those paragraphs would help this book a lot. It still wouldn't be a great book (see below for more of its issues), but it would at least be a ...more
Ryan Dejonghe
Aug 07, 2014 Ryan Dejonghe rated it liked it
Too constructed. That’s what this book is. It took me a while to figure it out, but everything made sense once I read the acknowledgement section: I would like to thank…one long list. No heart, no emotion, no genuine feeling.

This book should have been much better. Let’s take a look at some of the winning elements:

Written well? Yes.
Interesting time period? Yes.
Overcoming prejudices? Yes.
Difficult family decisions/tragedy? Yes.
Consequences of war? Yes.
Deeper, nearly allegorical meaning? Yes (ants
Aug 28, 2014 Jacqie rated it liked it
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

So, I do like historical fiction, but I'm picky about it. WWII is so overdone that I tend to be leery of it, but the blurb for this book intrigued me. Who wouldn't want to read about a tomboy intellectual little girl growing up in the fascinating city of New York just as the war comes to an end? A time of transition, a time to grow up.

And I'm willing to say that it might just be me this time. The book got off to a ro
Aug 29, 2014 Susan rated it did not like it
This book was a big disappointment. I'd read a couple of good reviews, it's set in a period I'm interested in, and I loved the cover. But the first part lost my interest because of all the junior entomology, the second part because the mother was an idiot, and the third because they were all under-developed, one-dimensional characters that just don't generate much interest or sympathy. The period element is never realized either. The writing is pedestrian and you can follow the whole rather ...more
Aug 17, 2014 Joyce rated it it was amazing
I'm still all for Wally and Ham. Hamly? Wallam?
Sep 30, 2016 Tonya rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016-reads
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 na
Katie Shahin
Sep 02, 2014 Katie Shahin rated it really liked it
About the book
The novel follows Wally Baker who's nine years old when the novel starts. While her father is in Japan, Wally lives with her mother in Brooklyn and for the war effort, they have taken in a boarder— Mr. Niederman. On V J Day, not only does the world change, Wally's own world changes drastically and mysteriously. Surrounded by an wonderful cast who all have to adjust to the changes, we follow Wally into adulthood as she tries to make sense of her own destiny, with little or no help f
Jul 06, 2014 Kaitlin rated it liked it
When the World was Young (click on book or see below for description)
By Elizabeth Gaffney
Releases 8/5/14
Downloaded free through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Rating: 3 bones

Finish Time: 4-5 nights. Sticking with my love of historical fiction for this read, this book did not disappoint. Full of heartache, self-discovery, mystery, and historical truths, this book transported me back to a time when “the world was young.”

The book begins with a very young Wally, a child of a soldier stati
Jul 13, 2014 Laurie rated it liked it
"When the World was Young” starts off to be a grand story, opening on V-J Day and the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood spontaneously celebrating together, marching around making noise. Nine year old Wally Baker starts that day happy but that isn’t to last long.

Wally is the daughter, granddaughter and I think great-granddaughter of female M.D.s; it’s the family tradition. Her grandmother Gigi runs the family with the aid of Loretta, her black live-in maid of all work. Loretta basically raised Gigi’
Susan Kaplan
May 13, 2014 Susan Kaplan rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: No one
Recommended to Susan by: Received from NetGalley
Young Wallace (Wally)Beatrice Baker's life changes forever on VJ Day. When the World Was Young: A Novel is the story of her life and the people who move in, out, and through it.

The oldest child of Stella and Rudy, Wally is raised primarily by women. Her younger brother Georgie died at the age of four, and her father is a career Navy man, at sea during the war and absent, for the most part, after it. She is raised not only by her mother, Stella, but her grandmother, Gigi, and their "Negro" maid,
Apr 26, 2014 Connie rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, e, arc, net-galley
This is a well-told story about a tomboy named Wally Baker, growing up in her grandparents’ house in post-World War II Brooklyn. The pacing of the story was perfect and it held my interest well. The characters were enjoyable, though based on the synopsis I expected just a little more from Wally. I don’t know what was lacking for me, to take her from being a good character to a truly memorable one, but my time with her was still well spent. I also expected more intrigue from her “dazzling but ...more
Sep 10, 2015 Maxwell rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle, 2014, arc
I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affects my opinion of the book.

I'm a bit torn on this one. I had no expectations going into it other than the description which sounded interesting and compelling, and that someone had compared it to Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn which I have yet to read but hear nothing but great things about.

So I decided to request it on NetGalley, and I got approved right away.

Overall, it was enjoyable. Was
Jul 27, 2014 Kristin rated it liked it
(I received a copy of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher)

I came into this book with no expectations, but left it wanting more than the story gave me.

Characters in the novel seemed either formulaic or underdeveloped; Loretta plays the role of the kind and sage-like maid, where characters like Wally's grandmother are made out to be prestigious figures only to be left barely sketched out. Many times I found myself wishing Gaffney had spent more of her description on developing certai
Aug 14, 2014 Melinda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
This was an interesting book, but a rather hard book for me to rate. There were some 5-star aspects of this book, as well as some 3-star aspects--so it was a bit of a mixed bag.

I did really enjoy the era in which this book was set. I've read books set during WWII and books set in the 50s, but very few books I've read look at those two periods together. The setting of this book is such a rich time--a nation recovering from war and the early stages of the modern Civil Rights and Feminist movements
Jul 09, 2014 Rosemary rated it liked it
It took me awhile to get a feel for this novel; the focus on Wally and Ham at the beginning suggested it was a coming-of-age, almost YA novel...but then the steamy scenes between Wally's mother and her boarder quickly put those thoughts to rest!

What the novel becomes transcends any of the genres that one might be tempted to slot it into: it's not a WW II novel, though the most crucial events of Wally's childhood are indelibly shaped by the war; it's not a book about race relations or gender ine
Aug 27, 2014 Nancy rated it really liked it
Shelves: ww2, netgalley
This summer I've been over-indulging in frothy period mysteries and, while they were fun, eventually I lost my appetite for more of the same. I knew I needed something different, but was at a loss as to what I was looking for. I tried Nazi atrocity novels and recoiled.

Then I obtained an advanced ebook of When the World Was Young and it shook me out of my reading haze. If time permitted, I would have read this book cover-to-cover in one sitting.

I've struggled a bit to understand my reaction to
Aug 09, 2014 Melissa rated it liked it
Shelves: ya, 2014, arc
I had no expectations going into this book- the cover was pretty and the synopsis sounded interesting. Upon completion of the book, I really wished that it had continued a little bit more.

For the first half of the book, I was apathetic. Where is this book going? What is the point? There are a lot of different characters in this book and it took a bit to figure out who everyone was and how they fit together. The protagonist, a young girl named Wally, did have my heart from the beginning. Her spir
WHEN THE WORLD WAS YOUNG by Elizabeth Gaffney uses a Brooklyn Heights neighborhood and a select group of its inhabitants to tell its story. Gaffney has managed to encapsulate a time in U.S. history from post WWII to the"police action" in Korea and give the reader an overview of those times. Throwing into dramatic relief an era of wartime situations and focusing primarily on the emotional sacrifices made by four women during this time period as well as the changes in social convention the reader ...more
Jan 02, 2015 Nancy rated it it was ok
The advanced praise was promising. So I was very happy to have received this book from Random House through NetGalley for advanced review.

It is Brooklyn, New York City, on V-J Day. Wally is interested in ants. Her grandmother and mother are both physicians and it is assumed Wally would go to medical school. But at seven years of age she only wants to start her own ant colony, under the direction of the family maid's son, Ham. WWII had taken Wally's father away, and Ham had never known his dad.
Apr 04, 2016 Etcetorize rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Cynthia Archer
Aug 29, 2014 Cynthia Archer rated it really liked it
"When the World Was Young: A Novel" is a great read. I enjoyed all of it, and found it especially thought-provoking and challenging because of some of the topics the author chose to bring into the story. It takes place from the end of WW II through the 1950's, in Brooklyn Heights, NY. The story blends two families, one prosperous, the other servant. Race and budding feminism are both featured prominently, as are the hardships that families face during and following war. The changes that take ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Amberwell
  • The Major's Daughter
  • The Hundred Days
  • American Blonde (Velva Jean, #4)
  • The Firebird's Feather
  • My Last Continent
  • The Remarkable Courtship of General Tom Thumb: A Novel
  • Tyringham Park
  • Monticello: A Daughter and Her Father
  • Murder at the Manor: Country House Mysteries
  • The Pretender's Lady
  • Murder at the 42nd Street Library (Raymond Ambler #1)
  • The Visitant: A Venetian Ghost Story
  • Elizabeth: Renaissance Prince
  • Maggie Bright: A Novel of Dunkirk
  • The Duke of Olympia Meets His Match
  • The Other Girl (The Winter Guest, #1.5)
  • The Determined Heart: The Tale of Mary Shelley and Her Frankenstein

Share This Book