Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse

9781501112171_6e1b5.jpgI’m back again with another WWII historical fiction novel, which seems to be one of my favorite genres of late. This is written for a YA audience, but like Salt to the Sea, adults will also enjoy reading it. Girl in the Blue Coat will be published April 5, 2016.

The story takes place in Amsterdam in 1943. Hanneke is a brave, young Dutch girl with nothing much else to lose, having recently lost her true love, Bas, to the war, as well as her best friend Elspeth. She supports her mother and crippled father working for a funeral director. What she actually does for Mr. Kreuk, however, is locate and deliver items found on the black market, items such as chocolate, cigarettes, and extra meat which have become scarce during the war efforts. As German soldiers roam the streets in her village and Jewish families are rounded up all around her, Hanneke’s courage shines. She becomes skilled at tricking the soldiers so they let her pass without any trouble. Her small acts of rebellion against Nazis and Hitler, though done mostly in secret, provide a small measure of satisfaction to combat the immense grief she struggles with daily.

One day, during a routine delivery to an older woman names Mrs. Janssen, Hanneke’s is asked to help locate a missing girl in a blue coat, named Mirjam. She was hiding in Mrs. Janssen’s cellar since her family was transported and killed by German soldiers, but has recently turned up missing. The problem is that the girl is Jewish, and if Hanneke is caught helping a Jewish girl, she will also be sent away or worse.  As Hanneke searches in secret, with the help of some members of an underground resistance group including Bas’s brother Ollie, she finds out that the girl in the blue coat either doesn’t want to be found, or that she may not be the girl Hanneke is searching for after all. Is it worth risking lives to locate one missing Jewish girl, when so many Jewish people are being rounded up like livestock and sent to uncertain death? Hanneke gave Mrs. Janssen her word, and she will not stop until she finds Mirjam, the girl in the blue coat.

This is a coming-of-age novel with so much going on. There are stories of Jewish babies and young children who are rescued by brave resistance workers, much like Hanneke’s friend, Mina, as their families are taken to concentration camps. There is hope, even in the most dire circumstances, and there is love between family, and between best friends. The author has done a beautiful job bringing light to a portion of history which should always be remembered. Overall, Girl in the Blue Coat is a wonderful story, for which you won’t be disappointed. My only disappointment is that it had to end.

Thanks to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for the early review copy.

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The Railwayman’s Wife by Ashley Hay

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The Railwayman’s Wife will be published April 5, 2016.

The story takes place in the town of Thirroul, in 1948, on the coast of New South Wales. The author’s vivid descriptions of the water, the library, the train station, and the beach really help the atmosphere of the book, allowing readers to imagine such beauty.

Anikka (Ani) Lachlan, wife to Mac Lachlan, a railway worker, and mother to 10 year old Isabel is happy to have made it through war times without any real devastation hitting her immediate family, when so many of the townspeople around her have become widowed. She spends her days caring for the family’s home and their daughter, listening to the distinctive, constant trains passing through, with an ear for that which will carry her husband home each day.

When Mac perishes in a devastating railway accident, Ani finds herself in a state of grief and disbelief, but knows she must continue on and provide for the family. She is offered a job as a librarian at the Railway Institute’s library, a job she is both nervous and excited about. When Mac was alive, she had dreamed of some sort of work to fill her days, but she knew her place in the family hierarchy was to be at home. Now, she is given a chance to step outside of her comfort zone to help others find literature for various reasons. Here, she forges unlikely friendships with two men. Roy McKinnon, a poet who was able to write during the harsh war, but since has been unable to come up with any words. Frank Draper, a young doctor, was in the first group of men to arrive as help to Nazi concentration and labor camps. Haunted with guilt at not being able to save so many people, he cannot find any happiness in his present occupation, even though the war is over. These men, friends since they were young, are both back in their hometown, sort of wandering through life aimlessly, trying to grasp a purpose for their futures. Enter Ani Lachlan, a beautiful, smart, quiet widow who brings a new warmth to the library. As Ani grows close to Roy and Frank, she finds herself slowly starting to swim away from the grief which was drowning her in the wake of Mac’s sudden passing.

There’s more to the plot than what I have mentioned of course, but I dare not give out any more details. I was captivated by the honesty of the characters, as well as the lyrical text. If you are looking for a fairy-tale ending, however, you won’t find it here. The ending is startling and tragic, but it fits with the mood of the story.

 

 

Missing Pieces by Heather Gudenkauf

Married for many years and with twins in their first year of college, Sarah and Jack Quinlan live a pretty normal life. Sarah feels like she knows her husband pretty well. However, when Jack’s aunt Julia is in a tragic accident, Jack and Sarah make their first trip back to Jack’s hometown of Penny Gate to be there for his family. Julia was like a mother to Jack and his young9780778318651_16f01er sister, Amy, after Jack’s parents were killed when he was a teenager. Sarah was always under the impression that Jack’s parents were killed in an auto accident. Once she begins talking to Jack’s family members and others in the tight-knit community of Penny Gate, she realizes that Jack has been hiding the truth about his parents fate, as well as many other things from her throughout their whole marriage.

After Jack’s sister, Amy, is suspected of hurting Julia, Sarah begins to wonder if Jack is not the true mastermind behind it all. It doesn’t help his case when Sarah finds out that his cousin Hal’s wife, Celia, was Jack’s serious girlfriend in high school. Not one to back down easy, Sarah decides that she will not leave Penny Gate until she discovers the truth about Jack’s parents, Julia’s “accident,” and other strange things she has witnessed in the short time since she arrived. The closer she gets to the truth, the closer she gets to someone playing a very dangerous game with her life.

This is a fast paced read, and the suspense builds all the way to the end. Gudenkauf is great at leaving little clues throughout the story, without giving away the outcome too early. I enjoyed the book, and I would recommend it to fans of Mary Kubica, Gillian Flynn, and Chevy Stevens.