Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Good Night, Irene by Luis Alberto Urrea reveals the heroism of WWII's "Donut Dollies"

With cinematic authenticity and deep emotional understanding, Urrea opens readers’ eyes to the female Red Cross volunteers who served overseas during WWII by delivering donuts, coffee, and homestyle friendliness to U.S. troops. The author’s mother, herself a minor character, was one of these women, who were nicknamed “Donut Dollies.”

Fleeing a violent relationship, gregarious Irene Woodward gets partnered with tall Indiana farmer Dorothy Dunford, cementing a tight bond of sisterhood. Their personalities and the writing itself crackle with energy as Dorothy drives their truck across England and the continent, following orders on where they’re most needed.

The servicemen greatly appreciate their work on the front lines, and the novel’s sense of realism grabs hold as the women become trapped in a French town crawling with Nazis.

War engulfs everyone in its path, as does the mental strain of constant danger, though Irene’s romance with a fighter pilot boosts her inner strength. WWII fiction fans, who have an abundance of options, should embrace this vivid, hard-hitting novel about the valiant achievements of these unsung wartime heroines.

Good Night, Irene will be published by Little, Brown on May 30th; I wrote this review for Booklist.  In an interview with Publishers Weekly, the author discusses how character of Irene is based on his mother, Phyllis, and her experiences during the war as a volunteer with the American Red Cross. Dorothy is based on her best friend Jill Pitts Knappenberger.  Jill, a resident of Champaign, Illinois, lived until 102 and shared her memories of the war and Phyllis with the author.

Read more in his guest essay for the New York Times, where he discusses piecing together the life story of his mother, and how her service as a Red Cross Clubmobiler (Clubmobiles were the vehicles they drove) has been neglected in the historical record. 

See also the article "Clubmobile Gal" at the Warfare History Network for more context as well as photos of Jill, Phyllis, and their American Red Cross Clubmobile, the Cheyenne.


  1. Katharine Ott5:19 AM

    This one sounds great, I'll add it to my TBR. For some reason I always associate "Good Night Irene" with Detroit Tigers manager Sparky Anderson, maybe it was played after they lost a game? (I'm unable to "Like" your posts any more, it just turns to a white bar, but the problem could be on my end, who knows!) Thanks for the review!

    1. I know the song and had it in my head periodically as I was reading! The ability to Like seems to come and go. I can see the button so am not sure what the problem is. Hopefully it will come back!

  2. Anonymous12:27 PM

    Totally agree with the "crackle with energy" bit - that really struck me as I the ARC (print!!)
    Sarah MN Librarian

    1. The book definitely was packed with action! Nice you had a print ARC (I see so few of those anymore).