This review will be short because, JUST READ IT.
“But, historical fiction isn’t my bag,” he said.
This isn’t that kind of historical fiction—i.e. the kind that binds one in a web of cultural minutiae and reads like a history book writ purple. This book will make you enrapt.
“But, I don’t like war stories. Too violent,” she said.
I bet you’ll like this one. Yes, it’s set during World War II, and war’s ugly face peeks around the corner from time to time, but one also sees how ordinary people do extraordinary things when exposed to the crucible of war. War doesn’t just bring out the worst; it also forces people to be better than they’ve ever had cause to be. The book is largely about a girl living under occupation and isn’t so much about life on the front lines.
How can I so boldly assert that one should read this particular book? (I normally lay out the facts first and only at the end make a recommendation.) Because this is one of the best crafted novels I’ve read. It’s extremely readable and engaging. The characters are superbly developed and one feels one knows them. Even the closest thing to a villain (if you don’t count war as the villain) is a complex and nuanced character who one wants to understand better.
I will tell you something substantive about the novel. It interweaves the stories of two teenage characters whose lives are fated to become entwined through the fortunes (and misfortunes) of war. The first is a blind girl who lives with her father in Paris. Father and daughter flee when the Nazis occupy France and end up living on the coast at Saint Malo with her great-uncle who is a shut-in owing to his experience in the last Great War. Of course, the move to the coast only delays the occupation and the point at which the war comes to them.
The other lead character is a German orphan boy with a gift for science who gets prematurely drawn into the war because of his great intellect and skill with radios. Not only are these characters both people who readers are drawn to, they both experience great growth over the course of the story. Imagine being blind in a war zone–or even just being a young nerd drafted into the war–and you can taste some of the emotional tension that resonates throughout this book. I won’t say that it’s all happy endings. It never is in war.
I’d highly recommend this book for all readers.