Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse

Happy book birthday to Monica Hesse and Girl in the Blue Coat!

It's 1943 and the Germans have occupied Amsterdam in spite of promises otherwise. Hanneke ekes out a living handling black market sales and evading the soldiers when she can, sweet talking them when she must; she isn't a revolutionary, she's just trying to support her parents. But when one of her customers asks for help finding a missing Jewish girl, Hanneke allows herself to be pulled into a much bigger cause. 

The girl, a teen whose entire family has already been slaughtered by the Nazis, had been hiding out in a secret cupboard belonging to her father's old boss. The man's widow took her in after her husband died trying to hide the rest of the girl's family. The two have nothing and no one left but each other and so the woman is determined to protect the girl at all cost. But now the girl has disappeared without a clue or trace, and Hanneke is the only one who might be able to help. 

Monica Hesse's teen WWII tale is one about, as she states, little rebellions. How even the smallest push against the Germans contributed to the larger cause. 

Hanneke's own rebellion begins somewhat selfishly - she's earning a living. But her heart isn't in the wrong place. Her parents don't work, her father is more of an academic and her mother no longer makes a living teaching piano lessons thanks to the war. Without the money Hanneke earns, they might all go hungry. But Hanneke soon meets others who are working for a cause, stealing rations and such to feed those who can't afford it otherwise. And Hanneke feels guilty. 

Unfortunately, her story is all too real. She has family to protect and take care of. She struggles with the fear that her own actions could result in, at the least, her own imprisonment, leaving her parents to fend for themselves. And the worst case scenario is something Hanneke doesn't even want to consider. It's understandable considering she's watched neighbors and acquaintances be taken from their homes by force and arrested on a regular basis! Plus, she's a teen so how much can she really do? 

A lot, as it turns out. Hanneke has a talent for evasion that's due in no small part to the fact that she's underestimated by the Germans because she's a teen and a girl who knows when to turn on the charm. It helps too that she's, as more than one character points out, the epitome of the so called "perfect race." In other words, she knows how to use the Germans' prejudices against them. 

Hanneke grows and changes throughout the story. Sure her initial motivation is money, but as the story progresses, she's driven by a larger guilt the reader isn't quite privy to as well as the knowledge that the boy she loved (a boy who died trying to fight for his country) would have done more. 

Girl in the Blue Coat is fiction, but is obviously influenced by real stories and very real rebellions. The author includes a great note on those, including the photography project mentioned in the book and student organizations in particular, that inspired this tale. Fans of WWII historical fiction, regardless of age, will enjoy this outing from Hesse. It's a great addition to the genre and an inspiring read!

Rating: 4/5

1 comment:

aparajita said...

The premise of the book sounds so real and your appreciation of it shines through. I do hope i'll eventually be able to read it.

Great review :)

Aparajita @Le' Grande Codex